I can do hard things.

Today, I decided to do the incline to remind myself that I can do hard things.

As I walked stair after stair with Austin’s ashes on my back, I was reminded of the journey to this day four years ago. I felt the weight in my lungs I had first felt on the day I was told he wouldn’t come home with me. With each step I heard those words and felt the months that slowly lead to him. It was hard. Each step forward hurt, just like those days of carrying him. Each step felt like love.

The climb was exhausting; it took me over two hours to reach the top, and when I did; it felt like loss. I’m so proud of myself for going and doing, but on the top of that mountain, I felt his loss.

Most people only care about when you reach the top. They want to hear about the views and the beauty, and truly it was beautiful up there. And Austin was beautiful, too. But after this, after the summit, after the loss. You have to get back down again. People seem to forget that, I know I hadn’t thought much about it before. But to get back down the incline, you have two options. You can go right back down the way you came, or you take the longer, but simpler way. A four mile trail.

Healing is the coming down off the mountain. You can rush it, try to run back the way you came, tell everyone everything is fine. but honestly? You’ll probably end up falling, hurting yourself more, maybe even breaking yourself apart permanently. So, I took the slow way. And it still sucked. Seriously the going down is the worst part. It takes way longer than you think it will. You try to go faster and you might end up on the wrong trail completely lost. Too slow and people start asking if you’re ok when you are so obviously not ok.

Grief. Loss of a child. It’s like a mountain. You go through this unimaginable pain, making your way to the summit and exhaustion hits with every step. The summit for me is the moment I met Austin and the hours I spent with him. But his loss, the letting go and the journey from 2015 to now, that’s the long hike back. I’m slowly moving down from the moment Austin died, there is joy in the descent, as there is pain and hardship. Healing is slow and it is it’s very own journey. I’ll never find the girl that lived in me before I started the climb. I’ll never know what life would’ve looked like if Austin hadn’t died. All I can do is move forward in my healing, find ways to honor my littlest boy, and one day, at the end of this long journey, I’ll find myself face to face with a God who walked beside me the whole way, and a little boy I’d been missing my whole life.

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Don’t use us.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that people use my story as a political point; as a way to say “this is the right way, this is the beautiful way to lose a baby.” When I first found out, I didn’t know what to say, or how to wrap my head around people who have never had to hold a dying child, taking what I went through and making it just a political statement. So I wanted to say out loud that I’m not ok with it.

Don’t use me. Don’t use Austin.

Austin’s life was beautiful, it had meaning and I’m so thankful I was able to spend the nine months I did with him, and I’m also thankful for the time I was able to hold him.

It was also the most traumatic loss I have ever experienced. Watching your child, the baby you’ve protected with your body and your heart struggle to breathe while you try to comfort him, knowing he will have no earthly comfort other than your voice, it was impossibly hard. Begging Jesus to take him, while also wishing he could stay there with me was confusing and awful.

I’ve explained a “peace beyond understanding” and that was very present. But the statement does not mean I was peaceful during his death. It simply means I was not screaming at the top of my lungs and throwing things like I wanted to be. It means I kept going, when moving forward was the most impossible thing I could fathom. Struggling with the question of “did I let my child suffer needlessly, should I have fought to induce earlier, could I have found a better way” is something you CANNOT understand if you haven’t been there. The guilt that follows you after making any decision when nothing will save your baby is very hard to live with.

I have incredible respect for every single mother that has been faced with that choice. So please, never use my story and Austin’s story to put down a mother that chose to induce at 22 or 26 or 30 weeks. We are all doing what we think is best for our babies, and trying to find a way to come to terms with the impossibility of losing a child. There simply is not a “right” or “beautiful” way to watch your baby die.

It really is that simple.

This Christmas

As Christmas approaches and the holidays truly take over everything, your feeds will be taken over by beautiful pictures of families together. Children filled with joy as they laugh or cry with Santa. You’ll see presents wrapped and good deeds by the hundreds, everyone is in the spirit to celebrate and enjoy this time of year. It’s beautiful, and magical and it’s all so contagious!

But I wanted to share a bit of my perspective, what my feed looks like. Mixed in with all the festivities and magic, there’s a post from a mother, spending her first Christmas without her baby. She asks the question “how do you ever celebrate again?” There are family Christmas pictures that are shared as someone holds a photo, the only way to get a complete family portrait anymore. Families are together, but feel that missing piece like a wound. We parents without our babies. We hide in the bathroom at Christmas parties because we still don’t know how to fully celebrate when we feel so empty. We don’t talk about the missing because so many people see it as a downer. We try to smile and laugh our way through this season, we try so hard to be what everyone considers “normal.”

There are three ornaments hanging from my tree that speak of a little boy that would be three and a half this Christmas, which honestly still feels too unreal to comprehend. Three and a half years. I can’t help but think about how much magic he would bring into this home at that age. The first Christmas that he would really start to understand what any of this meant. “Helping” his little sister open her presents, poking a belly that holds his little brother, actually knowing what he might want for Christmas. Instead I’m left trying to find a balance where I can miss him and embrace that, while also finding the magic for our little girl.

Christmas has become complicated, and I just wanted to put that out there for anyone who knows someone who’s been through or is going through this. Understand the effort that is going in to smiling this Christmas, and tell them that you are there. Tell them that speaking their babies name won’t make them the downer of the party. Recognize that if they don’t want to come at all, that’s ok too. Wrap them in love this year, and don’t be too pushy. This season is so beautiful, but it’s also so hard.

Love us anyway.

The Calm

We’re coming into what I like to think of as the calm before the storm. Four years ago in early September, I found out I was pregnant. We weren’t trying, we hadn’t even thought it was possible at that moment, and we were totally unprepared. BUT I was excited and overwhelmed. Around this time I had a scare, I started bleeding heavily. Luckily I got in to see a doctor and at just 6 weeks old, I saw Austin’s heartbeat for the very first time. It was magical, and in that moment I fully accepted that I was going to be a mom. I promised that little heartbeat I would love it, that I would spend every day teaching him or her how to be the best them they could be. I prayed daily for health and for myself, that I would find the strength to be a good mom, even at just 21 years old. It was a hard beginning of pregnancy, I was sick all the time, and as fall slowly took over, we told family and friends. For that first half of pregnancy, for the holidays, and into January, everything seemed good! Great even. And now, every year since, this is the calm. Even with Chantry to distract me, I can feel the storm building slowly ahead of us. The months that will always be the storm season for me. Full of memories and hurt and joy, the storm that wrecked my life, and remade me. It’s coming, and it always will be, but for these months, I’ll live in the calm, and remember a time when I was just so excited to be pregnant and carrying a little soul that I dreamed of raising as my own. Even though that didn’t come to pass, and that soul now lives in a different realm, I will remember these months of joy fondly, and try to ignore the storm that will soon break all over again.

The Sleeping Children

I watch her sleep often. She’s so at peace, and it fills me with a sense of calm. But today, today I can’t feel it. Today as I see her peace; mirrored are pictures of children sleeping on floors. Surrounded by other children, not knowing where their parents are, and if or when they’ll see them again. The contrast of this daughter of mine that is protected and safe because of her citizenship, because she was born in this country, and these children that were not, and are being punished for it, traumatized by the same government that says it will protect her. How is that possible? How can people not see? That these children and their parents are us. We are all simply us. I understand that people are “breaking the law” but I just don’t believe that this zero tolerance policy is solving any problems. And I don’t believe that crossing a border warrants losing custody of your children. It is simply traumatizing and breaking apart families. There are ways to secure our borders without hurting these people. Without taking children and placing them in tents. I don’t know how to fix everything, I simply know that I cannot be at peace until I know our government has stopped this. I cannot stand by as this time goes down in history as one more instance that America was nothing more than cruel. Stand up. Call your representatives, do whatever you feel is right to stop this. Because this is not ok. And we won’t be ok until we fix it.

Not so New Beginning

Living in a tiny apartment has been super tough, mainly because for the last two years I have felt we were in transition. But this time, this year, as God again said no to a bigger house or apartment, I found a peace in it. We decided it’s time to find the beauty in this place. We have rearranged everything and gotten rid of all the things that aren’t necessary, and I’m surprised daily by little joys and hidden treasures in this little home. I’m finding room to be thankful for the roof over our heads and the reminders of the last two years, two of the best years of my life! and I’ve found hope and peace in the fact that we will celebrate Chantry’s second birthday in the same rooms we celebrated her birth and whole first year.

Hearing “no” has always been tough for me. I hated asking anything from anyone because I was so scared of the word “no”! Even little things, I couldn’t ask. So to hear a no from God has always caused big struggles in my life and usually a ton of anxiety and stress. But this one, this feels right, and good. I feel like there is growth that needs to happen, and it needs to happen here. So this morning I’m thanking God for his timing and his peace. What an amazing God we serve

Remembering

June 1st always takes me by surprise. I think it’s because I’m always certain May 31st will last forever.

I remember this day three years ago in pieces. I was moved to the postpartum wing, into a soundproof room made for women like me, women that didn’t have a baby crying in their arms. I remember them bringing meals, and I remember not eating anything but a bite of cake. I think my family brought more meals that I ate more of. I remember the smell of the hospital room, and the quiet. And the laughter. Because there was laughter that day, in shock or just because we needed to feel anything else for just one second. Our social worker, Maria, came in twice. Once to bring me a teddy bear with a weight at its center to help with the overwhelming feeling of emptiness. Before I thought that sounded strange, but when he was plopped down in my arms, and some part of my soul felt like it might be ok again, I didn’t care how it looked. And once again to tell us the funeral home would pick Austin up soon.

I didn’t cry that day, I didn’t need to, or didn’t know how. I think the loss was too overwhelming to be put into any kind of physical act. It was too much to show anyone. I remember the doctor coming in, and fretting over the fact that my oxygen levels weren’t normal. I didn’t tell her that breathing was the last thing I wanted to do. Breathing was the one thing he couldn’t do. For weeks after I felt a physical weight sitting on top of my chest. I didn’t know how to explain it, other than my heart physically didn’t want to beat anymore. It wasn’t a will to die, and it wasn’t anything like suicidal thoughts, it was just something any mother would feel for a child. Any mother would die in place of her children, and this was the physical manifestation of that sacrifice. My heart didn’t want to beat, My lungs didn’t want to fill. It took months to not feel that weight anymore.

Today, three years later, I can feel the shadow of that weight, but it’s easy to lose it in the weight of Chantry. As a one year old she’s still not aware of her big brother, but she loves the teddy bear he held in his pictures, she laughs every time I let her hold him. She tries often to pick up the other weighted teddy bear, she’s still not quite strong enough. She is the biggest blessing of my life. She brings constant joy and reminds me daily of how much life there is to live. Austin will be there at the end of it all, but until then, we’ll find the joy in the little things, and the big things.