Family Portrait – Capture Your Grief

This is my family: Mila, Jensen, and I.

Our family portraits will never look ‘normal,’ but they’re perfect to me. They’re still full of love and an actual representation of who we are as a family.

Story time.

I was being brave today. This whole month I’ve felt exhausted. In the middle of potty training Max AND Mila (yes, I will post those adventures soon), doing school work, and trying to get back in the swing of subbing, plus everything else, I found myself neglecting what actually means a lot to me… Capture Your Grief. Every October I’ve done my best with it and this one, I just have been doing what I can do.

When I saw today’s prompt, I told myself I was 100% participating and going to get a picture of us. I picked out Mila and I’s outfit and Jensen’s bow. We grabbed our fall stuff and a big blanket to take outside. For like 15 minutes, I was in the backyard finding the perfect spot while rigging a stand up for my phone to sit…

I wanted it to be perfect with a fall background and all of us looking in the camera. Let’s just say… that didn’t happen.

Toddler’s aren’t the best at taking direction and Max wouldn’t sit still and Mila kept taking Jensen’s bow off and it seemed impossible to run back and get us all set up in time in a matter of ten seconds.

Did I feel a little defeated? Yes. But, I looked at Mila and held Jensen bear close to me and realized the most important people in my life didn’t care about a picture. They cared about me and know I’m doing my best. I let grief and stress and feeling like a bad mom get the best of me. It happens to all of us and that’s okay.

After my moment, I squeezed Jensen bear again and got Mila to come sit with us. I was going to get this picture no matter what and what’s wrong with a selfie?

This is our life. It’s three and a half years of grieving and a year and a half of parenting after loss. It’s one full of love and craziness. One that the only thing I’d change is having Jensen physically here with us.

I love our little family portrait today. My littles are in my arms and close to my heart. I’m smiling and everything is going to be just okay.

Kisses for Jensen.

Our Family is Growing…

On Friday I turned twenty-six and the weekend has been action packed. Before sharing all of that, I have something especially important to tell you guys. On top of getting another year older, my family has expanded by four paws.

Everyone, meet Max! He’s an Old English Yellow Lab. He’s super good with Mila and follows her around. Comes and gives me kisses when I pat on the ground. Last night he did amazing in his crate, but was super happy when it was time to start the day. Potty training a puppy and starting to notice Mila being ready to start is going to be a challenge, but I’m happy with our little family.

Max and Mila already love playing together. I can’t wait to see how they grow up and become closer. For now, I’m soaking up every moment… even through all the madness.

And hey, it’s National Dog Day to boot. A perfect way to celebrate the second day with our new pup.

“Is She Your Only One?”

A few weeks ago, Mila and I went to the mall. It’s her favorite place to run around and play. On this particular day, she was waving at everyone around her and it prompted an older couple to strike up a conversation. They told me how cute and friendly she is. Asked how old she was and that she was big for her age. Then the inevitable question was asking…

“Is she your only one?”

The awkward silence that took place following this question was me deciding how I’d word my answer…

“Nope. She has an older brother. He’d be three.”

Usually the past tense sort of ends the questions, but then there are others who like to ask more.

“Oh, I bet they love to play with each other. Siblings make such good friends when they get older.”

I just thought, how do I get myself out of this conversation. I’m not embarrassed Jensen died and I advocate for him and stillbirth all the time, but I chose to just nod instead. It sort of felt like a loss, but I didn’t have the strength to say it out loud that day. The nod satisfied them and they went on to talk about how two kids is the best and they keep each other occupied. They kept going on and I just stopped listening and watched Mila smile and play.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I just had said, my son died, then walked away. Would the face they would have made make me feel better? Would it have let them know their invasive questions can actually hurt those who’ve experienced loss and/or infertility? I think they would just think I was bitter and rude for outwardly expressing my grief and maybe that’s why I didn’t want to say anything.

There was a time in my grief, I would answer very direct that I had a son named Jensen and he died. So yes, I have children, but he’s not in my arms. Sometimes I think I did it for the shock factor and other times because I needed to talk about him out loud. Other times I’d love when people asked me because I wanted to talk about him and often they would share stories about their or someone close to them’s experience with loss.

It’s been a harder question to answer with Mila. I’ve always said that I have to kids and usually just speak about Jensen in the past tense and it’s clear with what’s happened. Sometimes I completely ignore them because a new response has came with Mila…

At least you have her with you.”

I’ve said many times throughout this blog that the ‘at least’ platitudes are the worst. It ALWAYS seems like a response when they find out I have both Jensen and Mila. Honestly, it hurts so bad to hear this. I’m so thankful I have her here with me, more grateful than anything, but there’s no at least with child loss.

Yes, I have her, but I also have her big brother too. He should be here. Jensen should be running around the mall with her, showing her the best places to be ornery. He should be giving her love and teaching her. Moms or dads shouldn’t have to bury their babies and siblings shouldn’t have to miss their brothers and sisters.

I wish I could be strong enough every time in answering the way ruin, “is she your only one?” by saying this: No. She’s not my only one. She has a big brother named Jensen, who’s in heaven. He should be here playing with her everyday and it’s devastating he’s not. I’m thankful to have her here with me, but wish he could be here too.

But we’re not strong everyday and not everyone gets the same answer. Some days I’m short and others I’ll talk about Jensen for as long as they’ll let me. I hope one day people will pick up on when someone’s comfortable with talking about children because it’s not an easy subject for everyone. Or there should be an understanding that babies die and it’s okay to talk about it. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject and for many of us, it’s our reality.

How do you answer this question or ‘do you have any kids?

Distractions.

My body knows April is approaching.

Honestly, it’s like I have this internal clock that just relives these last weeks I had with Jensen. They’re all happy memories, but the build up to the big day is still so dreadful. It feels like something else bad is going to happen or my body and mind dealt with the worst trauma during this time that triggers everything to be… weird.

I can remember in the early days, I always heard how everything would be better with time. A part of me wanted to believe it. How could someone live with that intense of grief for their entire life? Another part of me thought it’d be awful to lose that connection with Jensen. It’s not that I wanted to be a zombie like I was, but I didn’t want to let go of any of the pain. So, where are we almost three years out? It’s not better. It’s different, but not less. I wonder what he’d be doing or looking like everyday. It’s hard when people ask me if Mila has siblings and I’m unsure if I want to see the look of horror on their face or not. Losing a child isn’t just a thing that happened in someone’s life, they carry it with them everywhere they go.

Lately, I haven’t been sleeping. It’s sort of a new March tradition in my life. Near his first birthday, I had a lot of nightmares. I don’t remember if I wrote about any of them here, but they still haunt me. I’d wake up in a cold sweat and would just not go back to sleep. I haven’t had a nightmare about Jensen since then, but they were awful. It had to be a mix of not knowing what to expect on his big day and just the fear of time moving on. Then last year, when I was pregnant with Mila, I didn’t sleep for like an entire month. I would only get like two to four hours a day. I was processing another year without Jensen and trying to manage my grief with this new life inside me. Then I was in constant fear of her dying. I kept reliving how it felt when he died in my stomach. Anytime I felt like she had gone limp (she was probably sleeping), I’d nudge her and just tell her to move so I could relax for five minutes. I hope she never has to feel that panic or fear in her life.

Somehow now I’m three years out and still not able to sleep. It’s almost one now and Mila’s fast asleep beside me as I type away. Since last week, I felt myself staying up longer and waking up through the night. I think deep down I’m terrified of those nightmares coming back. It’s been two years since I had them and I can still see them play out. I’m also trying to be so positive with her first birthday coming up. She deserves a happy mom and I am a good majority of the time. I just hate knowing my child died and there are days when her smiling face doesn’t even put a dent in how badly that hurts. It’s a terrible feeling and makes me feel like a bad mom to them both.

Now that I think of it, it’s not like I’ve been physically tired during this time when I haven’t slept. My body just turns on autopilot and does what it needs to. If only I could figure out how to do that with my thoughts.

Anyways, I wanted to write today because noticing the lack of sleep and realizing I was distracting myself from thoughts made me realize this is how my depression/grief plays out. Every year, it’s the same. The only outlet I’ve had is this right here. Instead of making something for Mila’s party tonight, I’ve been trying to connect and do what’s best for my mental health… easier said than done.

I don’t know about other loss parents, but finding an outlet and some healthy distractions have helped get from day to day. Writing has always helped me. That’s why I have a stack of journals beside my bed and I’m writing now. When I heard that Jeremy Richman, a dad who lost his daughter, Avielle, in the Sandy Hook school shootings, committed suicide this morning, I just felt it. It being his pain and just feeling out of control. I feel for his wife and other child. My friend, Amber, actually told me about what happened and to check out his haikus too. I read through all the ones he had pictures for and they just echoed through me. Like, how many people just suffer and feel like they’re losing grasp of it? I mean, I do. If I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be awake right now and distracting myself even further from going to bed…

There were three that stuck out to me the most, you can find all of them on his Facebook page, here. I’m going to copy and paste his words. I didn’t know this person, but I don’t think he’d mind if I shared his words on here (mostly because they were public on his page, but I think he’d like to know his thoughts really made an impact on someone who is also grieving).


Untitled on July 4, 2014

Miss my hummingbird

She is everywhere I look

But nowhere I am

Untitled on August 22, 2014

The mirror reflects

A face I don’t recognize

Have you seen my ghost?

Untitled on August 29, 2014

Another first day

Lost in empty yellow space

Haunted by echos


Since Jensen’s been born, I’ve always said I wish I could live on an island with a community of people who’ve lost a child. Everyone would understand. There would be someone to always listen if you needed and if you were having days like the ones I’m having, they’d be patient and help you get to the next day. I know that’s impossible. Maybe this online community is our virtual island where we get to do our best from afar.

And maybe, I’m just distracting myself from feeling what I need to feel and giving my body the rest it deserves.

Mila reading her big brother’s book. She helps heal me in more ways than she’ll ever understand.

Mother.

Dear Mila,

Early on in your life, you’ll learn that not everyone’s journey to motherhood looks the same. You’ll know that there are moms everywhere around you, even when you can’t see their children. There are some babies us moms carry in our hearts.

You wore one of your ‘little sister’ shirts today. It’s something I am so proud you get to wear because your big brother means the world to me; and so do you. Death cannot steak these titles from you both. You are always connected and have an angel watching over you. Even though we talk about Jensen everyday and integrate him in our daily routine, there is an extra special reason you wore this shirt… today Bereaved Mother’s Day.

I think it’s hard to explain why Bereaved Mother’s Day is important. Why not just ‘celebrate’ everything next weekend? Well, in the past I’ve done that too. Today, for me, is when I can allow myself to grieve. I cried when I woke up, when I put that onesie on you, and now as I’m writing this watching you sleep in my lap. Grief is hard, but this is apart of my motherhood. If I never lost your brother, I wouldn’t know about this day. I wouldn’t know about the many different paths to motherhood. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, but this is how life is now. Loss moms everywhere can share their stories, let each other know we’re not alone, and help educate others.

Being your and Jensen’s mom is my favorite title for myself. Motherhood is the most rewarding and sometimes heartbreaking experience I’ve been through. On this day, I get to mother Jensen in a way that can help others and myself. I also get to mother you on these Jensen days to make you a more compassionate person.

I promise to always mother you in the best way I can. Just as I promise to mother your brother in the ways I can too.

Thank you and Jensen for giving me this title and allowing me to be your mother.

I love you.

Mama

Isolation.

Dear Jensen,

Portraits by Dana

Today’s May We All Heal prompt needed to stray away from the letters in writing your sister. It’s actually not the prompt, more as the actual day. I need to share you.

The fifth of every month will forever be yours in my eyes. Today’s monthday marks twenty-five months or two years and a month since you’ve been born. It also shares your sisters three week mark. But today, I needed to write to you.

You’ve seen me throughout this entire journey: the good, the bad, and the ugly. There have been times of complete isolation. It felt like no one in the world knew what was going on in my brain. No one had ever lost you of the relationship we had, so in my mind they’ll never understand. But around this time two year ago, you helped me find the loss community. That isolation turned into healing because I realized there were people grieving their child and I wasn’t this crazy person.

Since your sisters been born… there’s a different type of grief isolation. I try to be my happiest for her and live in each moment. Although it’s only been three weeks with her, I haven’t been able to write your nightly letter. That’s so hard on me. Once I get this routine down, I’ll be able to start up again. I’ve noticed myself keeping my emotions down too. When I put your sister down to sleep and I try to, they all come up.

Maybe it’ll be this way forever. I just want to find a good medium with it all and for you to know you’re always being thought about.

I hope heaven is a celebration everyday and that you stay close to your sister and I as we honor you and motherhood this weekend. You’re always walking with me. I know you make yourself known to Mila too.

I love you, Jens. You’re the light of my life.

Mama

Anxiety.

Dear Mila,

If a person could feel their mother’s emotions in the womb, you’d know all about anxiety.

I never used to be an anxious person before. Of course I worried about trivial things all children and teenagers face, but nothing like I’ve experienced now.

The first time I had an anxiety attack is when we found out Jensen had Down syndrome. I didn’t expect any ‘abnormalities’ in any of the tests with him. In my naive mind, nothing bad ever happened to babies or pregnant women. You probably think that’s crazy since you know how paranoid I am about pregnancy in general. Anyways, after those results, I couldn’t catch my breath and it felt like the world was sitting on my chest. After a few days, that anxiety went away. He was mine. I would do anything in my power to give him the bed of everything. So, I did what I do best and prepared.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I had my second ever anxiety attack. When we found out Jensen was gone, I fell apart. I guess it was like a major life attack. My blood pressure spiked, my vision went black, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Life felt like that for months after abs sometimes still does…

Nothing traumatic had ever happened in my life before that. I didn’t have any reason to worry about things before. My mind didn’t overwork. Then, as with everything, my world flipped upside down.

I worried every time my phone rang or if someone didn’t text back quick. Then I went through a stage where I didn’t care about anything. My anxiety flipped-flopped like that until I got pregnant with you. Then a new type of anxiety slapped me in the face: pregnancy after loss.

Everyday I woke up wondering if this would be the day you would be gone. When you hit big enough, I’d poke my belly until I felt you moving, then could breathe for a little while. I didn’t sleep much. My mind went through every horrible scenario. At every appointment, I asked my doctor if this anxiety was good for you and that I just needed you to be born alive. They knew all about Jensen so they didn’t think I was extra crazy for bringing it up each time.

With your birth, the anxiety of my body failing ended. You were here and in my arms. The longer you looked at me, the less I felt that anxiety.

Now that your here, I worry about other things, but it’s different. I’m not sure how to explain it.

As a mom and especially a loss mom, I’ll always have anxiety. I worry about you when you sleep, when I’m in the shower, or anytime I’m not holding you. It’s just because I love you so much and want you to be safe.

I hope you never experience the trauma and anxiety I went through with stillbirth. Even though I would never trade your brother or my time with him, I wouldn’t wish the aftermath of the mental madness of child loss on anyone. With that being said, when you are feeling anxious about whatever you’re going through during your life, I’ll help you make it through. I’m always here to listen and if you want my advice I’ll give it to you. One of my jobs for the rest of my life is to comfort you, even when you’re a grown woman facing this big world.

One of the things Jensen taught me that I’m able to teach you is that we can make it through anything. All it takes is a lot of love and a little patience.

I love you.

Mama

Beginnings.

Dear Mila,

This is how we began this morning. A walk around the big block before it got too hot. You love being outside and I love hearing the birds, that reminds me so much of Jensen, all around us.

Beginnings used to be one of my favorite things. They mark the start of a new adventure. A way to learn more about the world and yourself. Beginnings were awesome.

The beginning of my motherhood is my favorite. When I found out I was pregnant with your brother, I was full of joy and hope for the future. Of course I was scared about certain things, like how crazy different my life would be after he was born and if I was going to be good at the whole mom thing. My heart told me I’d be just fine though and your brother always made me feel so calm. He made this beginning so sweet, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

What I didn’t realize about beginnings was they sometimes were born out of really horrible situations.

The end of my pregnancy and Jensen’s birth was the start of my grief journey. I didn’t expect my motherhood to lead me to this point, but I was thrown in to this world where babies died and moms had to live without their children for the rest of their lives. It’s so hard.

In that beginning, you wouldn’t have recognized your mom. I know you’ve felt me sad or when I’ve had an anxiety attack, but this was different. Nothing could make me smile. A cloud of grief and shock clung to me everywhere I went. My days and nights meshed together by sleep and tears. I wouldn’t wish the beginning on any person in the world. I hated that my wonderful beginning with your brother brought me here, but I fought not to let grief and depression and everything else I was feeling stop me from remembering him with the light he brought to my life.

A little over a year after Jensen was born, a new beginning happened: pregnancy after loss. When I found out I was pregnant last spring, I felt like I could hope for the future again. Unfortunately, this hope lasted for a short amount of time. This beginning and end sort of go together. But it brought me to the next one, which gave me you.

I wish Jensen could physically be experiencing the beginning of your life here with us. A big part of me thinks he was there picking you out before I even knew you’d be with me.

If he’s taught me anything I could pass down to you, it’d be that no matter how hard things get, you have to keep moving forward. You don’t ever have to move on from something, ignore any of your feelings, or forget, but you have to keep going for whatever reason. You have this beautiful gift of life that so many don’t even get a chance to have. I know that probably sounds like a lot of pressure, but I want you to know how special and lucky you truly are, so would your brother. Take it from your mom, who has encountered some of the worst beginnings, that you are going to do great things in this world. When things go wrong in life (and they sure will) you can start a new adventure or begin again.

You always have me and your brother cheering you on. And I promise you’ll never be alone through any of your beginnings.

I love you.

Mama

———————————————————-

The 2018 May We All Heal prompt list:

Post Mila Triggers.

Photo by Katie Finnicum at Simplicity of Grace.

When Jensen died, all my dreams I had with him were stripped away in one moment. I was looking forward to sleepless night, poopy diapers, and the unending adventure that is motherhood. I didn’t get the first two things and was continuously reminded about others that I wanted too. Even now, as I’ve just passed his second birthday, I can imagine him as a two year old.

In the early days of my grief, my brain was so cloudy. I couldn’t process his death or even think about how he would have changed or his actions. Yes, I knew I was missing out on so much, but in the midst of intense grief my brain made me focus on just surviving. Now, with Mila’s arrival, I’m experiencing different emotions in my grief I didn’t know was possible. Every little and big thing she does that I never even considered with Jensen will strike me.

With these new feelings, I wanted to share how certain things have triggered me since little sister’s arrival. I hope in sharing these, I’ll feel less alone or guilty that these special, special moments with her have a cloud of grief hanging over them… I guess this is parenting after loss.

Holding her for the first time…

When Jensen was born, I remember asking the doctor if he had all ten fingers and toes. I just needed the whole thing to feel somewhat normal because it was anything but. With Mila, I didn’t hear her cry right away so I remember having a mini panic attack and asking if she was okay. Then I heard her cry…

After the doctor cleaned her off and suctioned everything out of her nose and mouth, she was placed right on my chest. I can’t remember if she had a diaper on, but I don’t think so. It didn’t matter anyways because she was right there: a living child in my arms. I remember being faced with wanting to cry happy tears for her being safe and then immediately after sad ones because I never had that with Jensen.

Seeing my family with her…

This was so hard in the hospital and still now when people see her for the first time. When Jensen was born only one of my friends came and my mom and dad didn’t stay the whole time. I felt completely alone and heartbroken and everything a new mom should not feel. If I could travel back in time, I would go to myself right then to just hold me. I’d go get Jensen from the room next to us and tell myself how perfect he was. I would hold him and show her she didn’t do anything wrong at all.

My time in the hospital now was more… light. She’s healthy and everyone wanted to see her. They took her and held her. The room was rarely quiet, unless it was nighttime and just her and I. Each time someone held her, they just smiled and talked so sweetly to her. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I do every time someone falls in love with her. But each time, I think of him.

Being wheeled out of the hospital…

Right before we left the hospital with Mila, I was already crying. I felt exhausted and I could feel all my emotions bubbling up. She was in her car seat ready to go and all my bags and flowers had been packed in the car. The only thing left from me having a living child at home was the wheelchair ride down to the car.

As soon as I sat down, I was sobbing. I was thrown back to leaving the hospital without him, only holding his stuffed elephant. Goodness, I can’t even describe the pain I was in that moment. When they sat Mila down on my lap before the started wheeling me, I didn’t even know what to think. I hated it because I knew I should have been happy (and I was) and all I could feel was my heart skipping and breaking all at once.

Shower time…

After getting home from the hospital this time, I asked my mom to stay with me for a little while so I could shower. During both my pregnancies, shower time was my favorite. Jensen and Mila would dance away in my belly and I could feel them move to the warmth of the water. After Jensen was born, I took a shower after getting home too. I broke down. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about this before, but being in the shower and feeling my belly so empty made it even more real. I cried for myself and I cried for Jensen. In that one shower, I had never felt more vulnerable, until the one I took after Mila.

I asked my mom to sit in the room with me. Mila was still in her car seat and I had the hot water turned up as high as I could. When it hit my back, it felt like a corset of grief broke open. The sobs sounded a lot like before. My mom had to be mortified and asked what was wrong. Why was I crying after everything? After composing myself a little to talk, I told her what was happening in my head…

I was happy Mila was healthy and safe at home. That’s all I asked for during my pregnancy, but my heart hurt. I missed Jensen and everything that had transpired in the last few days are all I wanted with him. It hurt not to have those memories. I told her I was afraid that he’d be forgotten now. That no one would ever say his name again and sometimes that’s all I want to hear.

God only knows what she was thinking. She probably thought I was a hormonal lunatic.

The little things I never knew about before…

Before even giving birth to Mila, I knew I’d be triggered by certain things. I was prepared for all the firsts and coached myself into not having them be ‘bad’ triggers. Jensen wouldn’t want me to take one moment with her for granted. He’d want her and I to be happy. In the ten days I’ve had her, she’s surprised me with different things she does. Even the ones that I never expected.

Instead of listing everything, I want to share something that happened yesterday… After a long walk and spending time with my mom and my friend, Becka, we went home. I fed her and changed her diaper. After a big afternoon, I knew she would be tired, so I set up a nap area for her and I both. I wanted to be close to her to hear her breathing, it’s the one thing that gets me to sleep well now. Anyways, I woke up after a little while and she was still sound asleep. I had my arm close to her feet and before I knew it, she moved them and they were resting on my arm. The warmth of them and just the way she did it gave my chills. I didn’t want to move and hope she’ll do it again in the future.

When she finally did move again, grief hit. I never imagine something like that with him. It was always the big moments I knew I was missing… my mind protected me from so much.

As I sit here and reread everything I wrote, I just want to say I know reading this is triggering to so many. I am beyond thankful for both Mila and Jensen. Honestly, I never thought I would take her home. I cherish every second I have with her and love making these memories. The whole entire thirty-nine weeks with her in my belly, I just was preparing for her to die, which sounds awful. With that said, I didn’t even think about triggers until they were right in front of me.

It’s always been important to me to share this journey and this is just one part of it. I’ll never forget Jensen or stop seeing where he should be in our home. I also hope Mila grows up knowing her brother and how much she is loved and wanted. Parenting after loss is a new road in this journey that I hope I can continue sharing.

Jensen’s a Big Brother!

On April 14, 2018, Jensen’s little sister, Mila Rae, came in the world at 1:14am, kicking and screaming. Hearing her cry was one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard and the moment they placed her on my chest is indescribable. The first hour of her life was surrounded by family and full of love. She was introduced to her big brother in that first hour by seeing his picture and his Jensen bear.

I never wanted that hour to end.

Pregnancy after loss has been the second most anxiety/paranoid-filled journey that I’ve been on, only behind losing Jensen. I tried not to take a moment for granted with her. There were a lot of ups and definitely downs, but we made it. Jensen has another thing to check off his to-do list. I truly believe he sent her to me.

They are the only ones who know the sound of my heart from the inside. I made them with all my might and will love them for the rest of my life and beyond.

Although there is so much more I want to say, I’ll write on a different day. Today I wanted to introduce you to my rainbow, Mila Rae, little sister to Jensen Grey.

Mila & Jensen.jpg