New Adventures in Parenting After Loss.

Parenting after loss is full of ups and downs. There are a lot of days I think of the what if’s and wish to see Jensen and Mila playing together.

Lately, Mila’s been more explorative in how she plays. I showed her how to make a tent by putting a blanket over her little table and she thought it was the coolest thing ever. She’ll play under there for so long and evening puts her animals to bed under there. It’s the sweetest thing ever.

In the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking of Jensen’s teepee I got for him. It was supposed to go in the corner of his room for a little reading area. Since it never got to be put up, it’s been packed away in my basement. This morning, Mila was begging me to get under her little kiddie table and with her, the dog, and I, the table wasn’t cutting it. I decided to be strong and go in Jensen’s corner of the basement to get the teepee.

Honestly, it’s hard. It’s hard to see his stuff that’s never been used and is just there in boxes. Knowing that there’s a live that should have been lived in a corner in my house, truly breaks my heart. I don’t think I’ll ever have the right words to describe what it feels like. But I bet a lot of loss parents know the feeling I’m talking about.

Anyways, I got into his corner and knew right where I was looking. Mila and I brought it back upstairs and I sort of just went into mom mode. Her and I put together this huge 5 foot tall teepee in the middle of the living room. She was shocked to see it and as soon as it was up, she ran right in. Her smile was so big and it just warmed me up.

It turns out Mila, Max, a hundred stuffed animals, and me all fit in this big tent.

Any time Mila has used something of Jensen’s, I’ve never felt regret doing it. She wore some of his clothes, has his crib up, and used his car seat and stroller too. On the other hand, there hasn’t been anything super sentimental she’s used yet. We changed that today and I’m happy to have done it. I let her know this was Jensen’s tent too and he would’ve loved playing in it with her. She nodded and said Jensen’s name, then continued playing.

Jensen will always be her big brother and I’ll always be both of their moms. I don’t think being a loss mom will ever get easier, but I hope learning how to juggle both will. I don’t want Mila to ever think bringing Jensen’s name up or asking questions is a bad thing. Or I don’t want her to be afraid to look at and use his things makes me upset because it doesn’t. It’s just another part of this journey that I’ll figure out.

For now, I’m so proud of the little girl Mila is becoming. She has a brother who will always guide and protect her. Although he might not be here to physically play with her, I know Jensen’s spirit flows through our home. I’m just happy to be here through it all, learning to be the best mom I can.

Parenting after loss isn’t easy, but I’m thankful to be their mother.

Adventure on Mila Rae. There’s so much to see.

A Reminder that Healing Takes Time.

I’ll never forget this time last year.

My life had changed again and in a way I didn’t expect. I was hurt and confused and wondered how everything would turn out. Even though inside of me was going crazy, I had to keep everything together on the outside: for Mila and me.

It’s funny because in the beginning of the month I knew these memories would come back to me. If I learned anything from Jensen’s death, I learned how I grieve and heal. So although this was different experience, I still lost a big part of my life and myself. Mila lost a huge part of herself too and she’ll never get that back.

For months, I sort of put everything on myself. I was angry and upset. It wasn’t until the last few weeks, where I actually talked about my trauma and described it to other people where I realized how messed up everything was/is. Honestly, I can say, I’m healing and on the right track. I’m choosing not to put myself in vulnerable and damaging situations. This sounds like such an easy and clear minded thing for someone to do, but it’s been such a journey for me.

I saw this picture today and started crying…

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Last year I posted this on Facebook and Instagram with the caption:

Happy to be ME

Let me tell you, people are facing battles that they hide from the world. I can’t imagine my world without Mila’s ability to brighten any room she’s in with her smile or never hearing her laugh. No matter what she faces or who tries to bring her down, I hope she remembers that she continues touring me happens I never thought I’d have again.

I’ll never forget that day and how I felt. I was told that Mila wasn’t important and that person didn’t want to do anything for her or know anything about her. She was nothing. It was hard completely breaking down in front of her, when she was just trying to make me laugh. I can’t tell you how infuriating and heartbreaking it is to hear that about your own child. Obviously I know not everything thinks the world of Mila like I do. She’s one of the many children of the world, but in her own way she is special just like every other child.

But reading those messages and feeling that hurt in the pit of my stomach. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone either.

Last year, I heard more of this stuff about Mila and my mothering. I was told to put her up for adoption because I wasn’t a good enough mom. She’s been made into a bargaining piece and not valued as the person she is. All kinds of things were said and I listened. I internalized it all and let it surface when things pop up.

People face battles that they hide from the world. I said that last year and it’s still true to this day. No one can be completely transparent about their lives; it’s just impossible.

All I can say is, I’ll never let Mila be a game piece or let anyone steal her or her smile away. Never, ever, ever, ever.

But let me tell you, I’ve grown since last year and gotten so much stronger. I know when I look back on pictures taken this year, I won’t look back and feel sadness.

Progress is the best thing about growth and healing.

 

She tried to forget him, but never could…

Last year, I wanted to sort of take my blog into different directions. I write a lot to heal offline and I wanted to bring it online; mostly because I know it helps others.

So here is me in 2020, branching out and sharing things that are sort of vulnerable to share. We had to write a little blurb for one of my classes this semester, I turned it into a short story, and I thought it needed to be shared. Hopefully you guys enjoy!

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One Text: A Modern Love Story

She tried to forget him, but never could.

He was always there, right in the back of her mind. Last year, she promised herself that it was over. The mentally abusive nature of the relationship only put her in a dark space. She had crawled out of it many times, but she felt it pulling her down once more.

“I heard our song on the radio today,” the text read.

Instantly, she heard the melody and the lyrics out of thin air. There was no need to specify what song he had been talking about. It was the only one that still took her breath away and let her memories come forth.

The night they danced in the middle of his kitchen to this song played out in her mind. Things were lighter then; the damage hadn’t fully been done. They held each other close as the first notes started on this song. She rested her head in the close to his neck and he rest his lips on the top of her head. He would whisper the words to her like he was telling her a secret. She would smile and hang on to the sound of his low voice.

Her eyes never closed during this dance. She took in his dimly lit house and saw through the big, bay window that his neighbors were having a fire. Instead of being embarrassed they might be watching, she smiled because he wasn’t afraid to show her off in that moment. The smell of their beer from after dinner hung in the air and her whole body was electrified from his touch. This night felt perfect and she wished it could be every night of her life.

She snapped back to the present. A single tear was falling down her cheek. It was months since she last heard from him and she truly starting to feel some kind of peace in her life. He had hurt her beyond repair and there was no apology that could make everything all better. She knew this was just a part of his game, yet all she wanted to do was text him back.

It was easier for her to focus on those moments she never felt more alive than the ones that had crippled her. She had to force herself to remember all the nights she cried herself to sleep and all the bad thoughts he made her think.

“Maybe it’ll be different this time,” she whispered as she started typing.

A Letter to the Man Who Helped Save Me.

Dear you, whose name I do not know:

Thank you is all I could say back to you, but I know you didn’t know the depth of those two words.

You helped save me from a twenty-four hours I don’t know how I survived. From a night filled with panic attacks to a little girl who wasn’t feeling her best, I was burnt out. Motherhood, although amazing and all these other great adjectives, can be draining. Days like yesterday was one of them.

So when you saw Mila walk in the store with her princess cup and train themed bear that she just had to take in, you saw it as me being a good mom. I saw it as just giving into a headstrong toddler, maybe a smidge of defeat. When you patiently waited for me to put her in the cart as she pointed to what seemed like every toy in the aisle (love the store in town, but why is the toy aisle the first one you see when you walk in?), I tried to calm down enough to slip her feet through the holes so you could put your cart back in. When I got her in you said it. The sentence that helped turn my entire day around…

You and all mothers just amaze me. 

I sighed in relief first because my anxiety told me it was taking forever to get Mila situated while you waited for me. My head had been playing games with me all day, but you kept going.

I don’t know how you mothers do it, but I’m glad you’re in the world. She looks like a happy girl, so you’re doing a good job. 

Thank you is all I could say. In reality, I could have cried because that’s all I needed to hear. Your kind words saved me. They helped me realize I’m doing the best I can do.

I hope one day I can run into you again and let you know how much your kind words meant to me.

Sincerely,

A mama who’s doing her best.

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