Dear Jensen,

I’ve really slacked this year.

There was a time I wrote a letter to you every night. They were what I depended on – for so long. It felt like my one connection to you. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t write my day or thoughts down, then you wouldn’t know what was happening. When Mila came and I didn’t have a moment to write to you everyday, I felt broken. Like such a failure, but I started to realize… you were with us, always.

My ‘slacking’ hasn’t just been with your letters, it’s been with writing in general. ESPECIALLY for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I used to post and write every.single.day but this year has been so different with what life has in store. Maybe next year will be another story.

As the days, weeks, months, years have passed, there have been constants. I miss you every single day. Sometimes I just find myself wondering what color your eyes were and how you would be with Mila. When I get overwhelmed with her antics, I think of how much I wanted them with you to settle myself. That’s another constant, picturing you. Always. The longing and wondering can hurt, but they bring me comfort too. Most of all, my biggest constant is loving you.

I’ll never be able to accurately describe my love for you. It’s different form loving Mila or family or anyone really. There’s so many levels. The memories. The loss. The remembering. The surviving. The… you. Through it all, you affect every aspect of me and how I handle situations I find myself in. It’s sort of insane how one baby, one son, the one you have changed my life, forever. And all of it’s centered from the love I have for you.

Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I couldn’t imagine my life without the time I spent with you. Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for showing me how deeply I can love. Thank you for helping teach me how to hold on to the good moment and breathe through the bad.

I promise to keep doing the best I can do, while holding you in my heart everyday. I wish I could’ve had more time with you. I wish I could see your eyes looking into mine and feel your hand holding mine.

You are one of my favorite parts of myself and I’m so proud to call you my son.

I love you so much.

Your mama.

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.

Why I’d Choose Toddlerhood Over Infancy Any Day.

Before Mila was mobile, I got asked all the time what kind of baby she was and how motherhood was treating me. I’d look down at her and see the cutest baby I’ve ever seen. When I was pregnant, I dreamed I’d love all her cuddles and babyhood. I wanted to be obsessed with her infancy and to some point I was, but she wasn’t an easy baby and PPD wasn’t allowing me to enjoy motherhood. Maybe it was the mix of not sleeping or feeling like I should have been doing more. I think the more probable answer is her wanting to be nursed and held all the time let me have too much time to think. To much time to wonder and open new doors in my grief. It was such a juxtaposition of having this healthy baby, but feeling dread on the inside.

I thought it would last forever and I was scared. No one tells you that you might not like the baby stage and they tell you to beware of toddlers. I needed to enjoy those cuddles before I had to chase after her all the time. Almost every person I talked to told me that first year was the most special. Then I started feeling really bad and thinking maybe I just wasn’t a good mom.

Then she started walking and everything’s changed. I know she’s only fifteen months old and just starting toddlerhood, but I finally feel that awe I thought I was ‘supposed’ to a year ago.

A toddler is full of defiance and tantrums.

I can’t tell you how many times in a day I tell Mila no and she flops on the ground, kicking her feet. She’ll look me right in the face when she’s doing something she’s not supposed to and smile. If I tell her one thing, she instantly does the other. She hates nap and bed time. Fights me tooth and nail when she needs to settle. Her scream is the loudest I’ve ever heard and if you’ve been around her, you’d know she does it just to hear her own voice. My house is constantly a mess. As I’m cleaning, she comes up behind me and puts everything back where she had it before. She wants my full attention all the time and when something doesn’t go her way, she lets me know.

These are the hard parts of toddlerhood and I’m sure as she continues to grow, that list will too. But there’s the moments during these times that make it worth everything. The special moments or routines that just melt your heart.

Having a toddler is seeing the world so differently. It’s waking up at 5:30 in the morning to kisses and her saying, “Mama. Gee dog,” as she points to the tv and somehow I know it’s time to put Benji on for her in hopes to get a few more minutes of sleep. Yet, for some reason not because watching her dance and smile seems so much more important. It’s doing something you always do unknowingly and then seeing them pick it up and do it too. Sometimes it’s a word you say and you know it’s not a good one. Toddlerhood is her pushing around a bag of Doritos in her baby doll’s stroller and sharing by giving you one every time she passes. It’s in the moments where you wonder how this little human you have can be so frustrating and then they give you a trillion kisses to make it all better. All the hand holds, toothy smiles, and big personalities make up toddlerhood too.

To every mom or dad who’s in a spot they don’t particularly like, it gets better. It’s okay to not like a spot. It’ll be over soon and you’ll look back and feel like you can accomplish anything. Through a persons life, there’s always hard times and things that aren’t great in that spot. BUT there’s so many moments that sparkle and with those we make it through.

My journey with motherhood has been anything but easy, but I’m thankful for this season I’m in. Even when she pours cheese all over herself. She’ll only be little once.

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:

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

The Bittersweet Reality of Pregnancy/Parenting After Loss.

The morning after Jensen’s second birthday, I found myself in the hospital for extra monitoring. I woke up with an excruciating headache, swollen hands and feet, and vision changes. All of these are signs of preeclampsia. After an hour of the headache not easing, I decided it was best to be safe than sorry, with the help and encouragement of my family.

Honestly, I was terrified even though I felt her kicking. We had just hit the thirty-eight week mark and her brother’s birthday had went off without a hitch. I know how fast things can change though. All I could think was they wouldn’t be able to get her out in time or maybe my minds just telling me I’m feeling her, but I’m actually not. Each of these thoughts resulted in her death.

When they wheeled me up to triage, I just kept wanting to hear her strong heartbeat. Thankfully, the nurse didn’t even have to search for it. Turns out, my excruciating headache and vision changes were just from a migraine and the swelling was from being thirty-eight weeks pregnant…

The rest of the weekend, I was on edge. Jensen died over the weekend after being thirty-eight weeks and I was preparing myself for that. She continues to surprise me. Everyday she moved constantly, letting me know she was a-okay in there.

At thirty-eight and two, I held my breath. That’s when he was born. I had never been pregnant for longer than this amount of time. When I went to bed Sunday night, I tossed and turned, fearing what would happen when I slept.

Then I woke up with one thought…

Mila is officially older than Jensen was ever able to be.

There was such a mix of emotions this morning. I smilies because I knew she was still with me and doing her morning stretch, but tears fell from my eyes. This milestone was only made for her because of the death of her brother. I wept because I wish I could have had him for another day and everyday for the rest of my life. It’s not fair that his time was cut short. Then I wept because I still have her. She’s brought me so much hope and an ability to look towards the future with a smile.

It’s a lot of emotions for this hormonal, grieving, pregnant momma.

I can’t imagine my life never having Jensen and his story in it. Do I wish he could have lived instead? Absolutely. Has his death completely changed my life? Yes. Will it alter the way I parent Mila? For sure. Without Jensen, I wouldn’t have been able to advocate for myself during this pregnancy, like I didn’t with him. It’s also allowed me to celebrate every week with her, in small ways. Every movement she makes, I smile (sometimes I yell too because she’s really hurting me at this point). When I think about the next few weeks with her being a needy newborn, I know I’m preparing for being exhausted and overwhelmed. Yet, I would choose having these pregnancy pains and her screaming 24/7 than not having her at all.

The silence and stillness that flooded my life after Jensen was born was the absolute worst thing ever.

As much as I’m looking forward to every moment with her, I know the same feeling of her achieving all the milestones in front of her will feel so bittersweet. I’ll be so proud. But I know in the back of my mind, I’ll wonder when Jensen would have hit them and/or how he would have helped her get to them too. I’m so scared to not be a good mom to her for this reason. All I want is to give her the world and encourage her to be the best human she wants to be.

Part of me thinks, when I see her it’ll just feel natural. For almost three years, I’ve waited to have a living child to parent. My dreams of having her in my arms are so close to happening. To watch one of the biggest parts of me grow and conquer the world around her makes my heart skip a beat.

As hard as it’s going to be in this new chapter of grief, I know he’ll always be walking with us and would want us to live bravely. It may feel extra bittersweet some days. There will be times I breakdown because parenting a child in heaven and one on earth is hard. Yet, for some reason, these little souls chose me and I’ll be damned if I ever let them down.