Halloween

Halloween_symbols_like_the_jack-o'-lanternIt is the second Halloween without my baby girl. I have been thinking all day about my Facebook feed with pictures of adorable children in their Halloween costumes.  I love these pictures.  I enjoy seeing my friends’ children, my niece and nephew and cousins.  But today I did not post a picture of my son in his Martin Kratt bat creature power suit.  He gives me his three-year-old stink face smile as he sits on an excavator at Touch-A-Trucks in his costume and I snap another photo.  He holds my hand as we walk and trick-or-treat for the first time this evening.  We ring four doorbells and he is in awe of the bowls full of candy.  I did not post a photo of my son today because I’ve been thinking about the mothers who have had miscarriages and stillborn babies and babies who died after birth. I am thinking of my friends struggling with infertility and I’m thinking of the ones who are not here.  My Facebook page is blank today because I am holding the space for the ones we love who aren’t here.

“Halloween isn’t even a holiday,” my husband says to me when I tell him what is on my mind. But Halloween is a part of our American culture.  Tonight my pumpkins are in memory of the babies who are not here.  I know that they are very close to us.  In our hearts.  On our minds.  May our world remember us too:  the mothers and fathers and siblings who remember our own on the other side of the veils, even as the children around us squeal and laugh and shout “Trick or Treat!”

As night settles in around us my son holds my hand and the jack-o-lantern’s glow reminds me of my daughter, my love, my Light.

Social Media and Grief

facebooksquareIt is July 2014. I am pregnant with a baby that is dying. I wait and wait. Each day and night is long and feels like a week. By the time my daughter is born in August, I will have had 21 days of contractions. Until then I sit inside most of the summer unable to be active because of pain in my hips and legs and back. I am on my computer where if I cry no one will know. A Facebook friend, who is also a midwife, posts “I hate all things post partum.” She has just given birth to a beautiful healthy son, her second living child. I feel like someone has slapped me in the face. The words sting, and they stay with me for a long time. I know that she does not hate her beautiful new son. What could I say when I knew that I would go through labor to birth a dying baby and walk those long months afterwards healing with my arms empty?

Other Facebook friends complain about their pregnancies. They are uncomfortable or the baby is big and active and kicks once again. I remember how much I wished my daughter would move and grow, how much I wanted a normal pregnancy with kicking and turning. Instead I carried a baby who barely moved and I planned her funeral while I carried her praying that I would meet her alive, even for a moment. After an ectopic pregnancy, a friend listened to her pregnant co-worker complain about the sacrifice of not drinking for nine months. Another friend who suffers from endometriosis and has not conceived a child tells me that she is tired of hearing her pregnant friends complain about the nausea and kicking. “I’m sure that pregnancy is hard,” she says, “but my friends are carrying these miracles.”

There are many women hurting while others seem to take for granted the good fortune of their healthy pregnancies and healthy children. I was childless for 15 years, and remember that constant discussion point around the question “Do you have children?” I could not understand then, and I still do not understand, why this role of motherhood is one that should define us. I was a writer, a grant writer, a teacher, a poetry therapist, but none of that came up in discussions. Mothers talk about their children often. There is no need to ask a woman if she is a mother. She will tell you about her children, even if you don’t ask.

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and one in 160 births are still. A certain percentage of newborns and babies die from neonatal illnesses and SIDS, and another percentage of women are infertile. Therefore, there are many of us holding our electronic devices looking at ultrasound photos, birth announcements, and the joys and the complaints of parenthood. How do we take the posts and life trajectories of our friends and colleagues who seem to be clueless about other people’s struggles? They might not mean any harm by their posts, but somehow those words and photos hurt deep inside our broken hearts. It is almost eleven months since Mary Rose was born and pictures of newborns, especially girls, still sting just a little. I bless each baby I see, and remember my sweet Mary Rose, longing to hold her in my arms.

I didn’t know that my friend, Yana, was pregnant at Mary Rose’s funeral. She didn’t tell me for a few months and she never announced her pregnancy on Facebook. She refused to post ultrasound photos. Yana is an academic whose first two pregnancies ended prematurely. Many women work well into their forties putting family on hold until they are established in their field, and sometimes it is too late to conceive then. We discussed Facebook and she said “I won’t put this on Facebook because I don’t know who is looking and who is suffering in her own situation.” Perhaps only those of us who have been on the other side of the “normal” and exhausting joys of parenthood are aware of the pain and emptiness within a woman who wants to hold a living child in her arms.

The way that I have handled social media is to either hide or unfriend anyone who is causing me any disturbance in my inner peace. For people who have hundreds of friends and who are only acquaintances, I don’t think that they will notice when I click “unfriend.” And for those who are closer to me, who might have some interest in my own life, I click “unfollow.” I don’t want to read angry or upsetting posts. I also find myself so overwhelmed by those who post often during the day that I unfollow some dear friends just to limit my exposure and clicking. I can always check back on their wall and I know that my deep and meaningful relationships are alive in person, on the phone, and on Skype.

I know people who have deactivated their Facebook accounts, but I am grateful to my trisomy 18 community and support system that has linked me to other women going through their grieving process. It was in Facebook messages that I got to know my friend, Sindy, who painted “Healing Companion.” I became friends with a dear woman and artist from California, Lakshmi, whose son Siddha was born and died the April before my Mary Rose. I also came to know a woman, Sherri, whose last two pregnancies ended in death due to trisomy 18. Her sons are named Bryson and Ryder. I love these women, though I have never met them. Their babies are in my hearts. We have a mutual understanding in our experiences that few can understand.

One of my friends recently had a grief-related, cyber-bullying experience with one of her Facebook friends and I encouraged her to stay connected online and recognize that she has control over some of the experience by unfriending and unfollowing folks who are causing her any difficult emotions. There are many who look at the dangers of the Internet, but if we use this virtual world to support and encourage each other, then we can use it for good. Most of my support came through a screen as I did not get out much with my pregnancy to Mary Rose. I hated the phone those many long months and am only returning calls recently. I could not control my weeping and I can’t talk while I cry. The phone seemed useless to me after finding out about Mary Rose’s genetic defect. One of my dearest friends, Paige, thought I was upset with her when I didn’t return her calls last spring. I started to cry on the phone thinking that I had hurt my friend. Every word took such effort, and I did not know what would trigger my tears.

It is my hope that we can all be more sensitive to our others, our friends, relatives, bosses, sisters, acquaintances and women who are each walking and maneuvering through their own personal challenges. I don’t have too many answers, but I’m willing to walk and discuss ways that we can become more sensitive to each other’s path. I’m certain that we can make this easier together, by considering the weight of our words and actions, even our inactions. We are connected on the web and in life. Let’s connect our hearts and consider those who are suffering quietly, watching and reading our words through a screen with tears in their eyes.

Why Do People Compare Grief?

IMG_0550I pull into my friend’s driveway at the end of the road and feel like I am visiting a magical place. I am thinking of fairies and woodland creatures as I get out of the car taking in the shady property surrounded by pine trees and gardens with echinacea. I read about this house in Terry Jones-Brady’s book A Mosaic Heart: Reshaping the Shards of a Shattered Life. Terry writes about her two daughters’ deaths from cystic fibrosis and her first husband’s suicide five years later. She is outside waiting and asks me “How long has it been?” I pause surprised that it is June 8th, surprised that it is ten months since I held my baby girl in my arms.

Terry and I have been talking about how people compare grief. The first time I met Terry in the fall I muttered something about how my grief can’t be compared to hers. She looked me in the eyes, holding her blue mug of tea and said “Grief is grief. You can’t compare.” Right then in the wake of my new journey as a grieving mother, I saw my own conditioning. As a young child I was compared to other children and to my sister. We are taught to measure our achievements by looking at how others have done. We compare our paychecks, houses, cars, looks, health and relationships to those of our relatives, coworkers and Facebook friends and we feel inadequate in these measurements. We never know what goes on in someone else’s house or heart when the lights go out, when we aren’t there. Here in the club of parents whose children have died, how does it serve us to compare our grief? Who wins if one of us has more pain?

I think back to the many grant proposals I wrote and how we developed assessment tools to measure success. But can we measure or quantify grief? People try to do so. My mother tells me that my grief over burying my newborn, Mary Rose, is not as bad as Judy and Steve’s grief because their first daughter, Hannah Audrey, died at 18 months of brain cancer. Judy and Steve’s pain is not as deep as Miko’s grief. Her son, Josh, was in his early twenties when he died suddenly in a car accident. Miscarried children aren’t weighed on this scale most of the time. When I ask my mother how she came up with her statements she says that when you have more memories you miss the child more. According to this scale the longer a child lives, the deeper the grief.

I disagree. I think of my daughter’s life and I try to extrapolate a new memory, a part of her, something from our journey. I had contractions for the duration of her life. She was buried in her baptismal gown that had pink roses on it. No baptism. No milestones. No smiles. It was one life-changing moment. Sometimes I only remember the feeling of her weight in my arms wrapped in a blanket, my thoughts “I can’t believe it’s already over,” and my son bending happily to give his beloved, still sister one more kiss. When I hear parents speak of their children who have reposed, they smile, often with tears in their eyes, remembering outings, moments, words, hugs, dreams and kisses. My heart longs to know something of my daughter’s personality and quirks. I feel her presence with me all the time, but my body and heart want more.

A couple of weeks ago Terry emailed a few friends about a negative Facebook experience. A friend told her that Terry should get over her daughters’ deaths because Terry’s grief was not “one-tenth” of hers. This woman who was sexually abused by her father and brother, and later stayed with an abusive husband, took to cyber-bullying a friend whose entire family had died. Another friend who is a priest told Terry that losing a parish entailed more grief than losing a child. When Terry asked “Why?” the response was “Because God is in the parish.” Terry asks me “Isn’t God in a mother who bears her child?”

People tell me often that I shouldn’t cry because I have a living son. I am reminded again and again that some people’s first pregnancies end in death. Though I know that my son is a blessing, grief doesn’t work that way. I carried and buried a child. I have a right to stay in the space of grief, to work through it, to feel the pain of not having my daughter here in the flesh for the rest of my life. She surrounds me. She is in my heart. I love her, but it still hurts. I don’t know that this would hurt less if I had a half dozen children.

Even here discussing Mary Rose, and Terry’s beautiful daughters, Heather and Holly, let’s not compare. Mother Gavrilia, the Greek Orthodox nun, writes that comparison is violence. If we are all created in God’s image, than how is one of us better than another? How does one person’s grief hurt less? If we believe in soul contracts, fate, karma and God’s will, then the tragedies of our lives shape us and prepare us for furthering our work on the planet. I believe that I was chosen to be Mary Rose’s mother, that she chose me, that we chose each other. Terry’s path is different from mine, and so is her journey of grief.

I choose not to compare life to death. I want to think about life and Life. Not this side on Earth or that side of the veils, but of life and the deeper Life beyond this body in the multi-dimensionality and beauty of our Creator who sees the entire Universe in those loving eyes. I know that Mary Rose, Holly and Heather Live. They are now our ancestors, each child a beautiful and divine creation in her own right. How can we compare a newborn, a twelve-year old and a twenty-two year old daughter or how much their mothers miss them?

Terry made mosaics from the broken pieces of Christmas ornaments and dishes and glass after her children died. Some pieces broke on their own but she shattered others, arranging them to make beautiful art. The picture above, which is on the cover of Terry’s book, has several words. I see the words glad, tidings, heralds, Child’s, Earth, world, Joy, Peace. John Milton’s words But what is strength without a double share of wisdom appear unbroken, and the angel, whose left hand and wings are missing looks out at us, her chin held high.

Stop This Milk Please!

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The night after I buried my newborn daughter, my milk came in. I had hoped that I would be spared dealing with mother’s milk. I was shocked and surprised that I was shocked, relieved that I did not have a severely ill child to take care of and that the pregnancy was over. Grief thick as molasses settled in with the aching physical soreness after labor, hormones that woke me up at night looking for the baby to feed, the longing to hold my child, the memory of holding a cooling baby in the bewilderment after labor. Hadn’t I been through enough? Why milk, when Mary Rose was not here to drink it? It felt as if God were mocking me. My midwife, Anni, said that the whole body was weeping. I cried and cried, struggling to get around since my sciatic pain was still severe, wondering if I would survive being postpartum at all.

It was Sunday night and my mother tried to bind my breasts while my husband slept and I cried from pain. The next morning the pain was excruciating. I wept and called my midwife who would come to help. My breasts looked like missiles about to launch. The pain was so intense that every movement hurt. Afterbirth pains continued. I remember sitting down a lot and weeping. After all that work, the months of pregnancy and labor, what did I have to show for my efforts?

When Anni came with essential oil of peppermint and a carrier oil, No More Milk tea and a bag from Rite Aide with advil, ice packs and bandages, I felt her love in her blue eyes and ready hands telling me that I would be okay. I was writing a dark poem, moping in bed, frustrated that my back pain hadn’t gone away immediately. She showed me how to massage the essential oil of peppermint in a carrier oil onto my breasts. I started to also massage out some of the milk for some relief. She often talked about the gift “these babies” are to those who encounter them unafraid, but I just wanted my milk to go away.

It took a few weeks for my milk to dry up completely. It took some time to piece together a “how to” list to stop the milk. This is what worked for me:

1. Sudafed has been shown to dry up milk. I took a lot of Sudafed for about a week and then started taking less for a second week.
2. Sage tea and No More Milk tea, both found in a health store or online at vitacost.com or luckyvitamins.com. I alternated the teas and drank them all day. I think that the sage tea worked better, but they both helped.
3. Cabbage leaves cold from the refrigerator did not seem to work. I read one study that said cabbage leaves had not been shown to decrease milk supply but acted as an ice pack and relieved some pain and pressure. I continued to look online until I found another source that said that to activate the enzymes in the cabbage leaves you had to crush the veins by going over each leaf with a rolling pin. I covered my breasts in crushed cabbage leaves and then placed ice packs on them. When the leaves wilted I did it again.
4. Essential oil of peppermint diluted in a carrier oil applied directly to breasts has been shown to slow milk supply. I did this two to three times a day.
5. Hot baths to let the milk drip out. I sat in a bath and let my milk drip into the tub each night, sometimes massaging some milk out. It offered some relief.

I started doing all of the things above, including using ice packs on my breasts, for at least two weeks and then started taking steps out. I stopped the Sudafed first, then the cabbage leaves, then the essential peppermint oil. I stuck with the teas for several weeks until my breasts no longer filled up with milk. I know that binding breasts has worked for women for centuries, but it was too painful and I decided to skip that suggestion.

After my first pregnancy I pumped milk for ten months for my son until I became so ill that I had an autoimmune disorder. I did not get sick from pumping. It was a combination of not sleeping with a baby waking up every three or four hours, coxsackie virus, and the exhaustion of pumping day and night while taking care of a baby and a terminally ill aunt that put me over the edge.

Many mothers who carry children with fatal illnesses to term pump and donate their milk to a breast milk bank helping others who have too little milk or no milk at all. After my experience with my son, I could not get back on the pump unless I had a child able to drink my milk. I felt selfish, but I did not want another baby getting Mary Rose’s milk. Perhaps this path of stopping my milk would have been easier if I had pumped and slowly weaned myself from pumping until the milk lessened, but I couldn’t do it.

In speaking to my bereavement doula, Leslie, she said that in her experience mothers who are in shock and don’t expect their babies to die often pump as a part of their process to work through their shock. She thought that I had been mourning Mary Rose during those five long months after her “diagnosis” and I didn’t need to pump.

One week after my daughter’s funeral I went to a pow wow with my doula, Leslie, and artist friend, Sindy. We sat on the grass under a tree listening to drumming, feeling that ever constant heartbeat of the Earth moving forward, even when we want life to stop. The dancers came out in their colorful native clothes, moving and singing, celebrating their culture and way of life. A woman carrying a tiny newborn walked in front of us and sat down right in front of me. It was a big park. Really? I thought. My breasts ached, my body bled and I sat there trying not to cry, held up by the sisterhood of my sweet companions. I didn’t stay long because I was exhausted, but I walked around limping and bought a wooden frog for my son knowing that the choice I would make was to continue on my path for as long as God kept me here.

It is my hope that each woman faced with milk after a miscarriage or infant death does what feels best. That first intuitive feeling in the heart center is right. Pump if that feels right and bless others with your mother’s milk. And if, like me, you just can’t do it, you just can’t attach your breasts to a machine and package up your child’s precious nourishment, don’t. Either way, you will survive this time that feels endless and maddening. Those post-partum months were worse than I expected, especially because I couldn’t sleep through the night. I would wake up after a couple of hours of sleep and toss and turn for hours. Where is my baby? I kept thinking. My eyes would dart around looking for the girl I wanted to hold and nourish.

Where is my baby? I like to think that she is right next me, cheering me on. You can do it, she says to me. And so can you.

I hope that you are accompanied by a few holy sisters who surround you and hold you in your tears as the Earth beats on.

It’s Not Your Business: A Discussion of Abortion and Neonatal Life Support

free-vector-mothers-silhouette-02-vector_026828_Pregnancy%20(2)I heard the poet Claribel Alegria speak at The Resilience of the Human Spirit Conference in 2006. She said that everything we do is political. During my pregnancy with Mary Rose I recalled her words often. Choosing to carry my daughter to term after testing revealed that she had trisomy 18 disturbed people and my pregnant body became a part of public discourse. Not too many people know that their baby will die while pregnant, and though I am pro-choice politically, I am also a private person who still does not understand why people freely gave me advice on two decisions that most have no experience making: abortion and neonatal life support.

A few Christian friends suggested abortion, and this surprised me. Did it surprise me because they were talking and posting on Facebook about “The Lord?” or was it because I thought that my decision to carry my baby was private? I would never tell my very closest friends what to do with a pregnancy. What made it okay for acquaintances to tell me what to do with my pregnancy? Or for friends to advise my mother after liturgy that abortion was the best choice for me?

It was appropriate for the doctors and genetic counselor to offer me the choice of abortion. When I said no, that was it, probably because I live in the south and Christianity is the mainstream culture here. I know other mothers are pressured into aborting their babies and have a hard time finding doctors who will work with them to carry their pregnancies to term. I know that some parents of trisomy 18 babies can’t find doctors to treat their children because they are deemed “incompatible with life.” It seems that no matter what we do there are challenges. We have to be our own advocates or we will get lost in the system. I did a few things that were not expected. I carried my baby to term, birthed her at home, and did not have her body taken away to a funeral home. I simply refused those options, even though they might have been easier choices.

I can’t imagine that abortion is an easy decision though. There is still a loss. When I was mourning after my baby died, post-partum hormones raging, I knew that some people thought I wouldn’t be going through this if I had terminated my pregnancy. It’s not so simple. I know women who have had abortions and they are still dealing with their choice years later, just as I will always walk my path with the consequences of my choice to birth and bury my newborn.

I was childless for 15 years, not by choice. In that decade and a half I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted a child of my own with every cell of my body. I knew that I could not terminate a pregnancy regardless of the child’s outcomes even when a child was an abstract wish far off in the future. I first felt Mary Rose move in the genetic counselor’s office as she was asking me if I would have an abortion. I firmly stated, “No.” I wished for a child and I had a child. I knew that there would probably be no holidays, no milestones, not much time. Babies with trisomy 18 have a range of possibility. Fifty percent are born still and most die within the first hours, days and weeks. Under 5% live to their first birthdays and most of these are on life support.

My husband and I agreed that we would not terminate the pregnancy and then decided that we did not want life support for our newborn. If our baby could not breathe on her own, could not eat, or suck, we wanted to hold the space to honor her peaceful death. We were making these intense decisions with our neonatologist, midwife and priest and then someone would say “You didn’t have an abortion?” What gave us away? The fact that I was seven, then eight, then nine months pregnant. I had one question: Why is this any of your business?

The decision to carry a child with a fatal illness to term or not, to choose life support for an unborn baby or not, to plan a funeral instead of readying a nursery, these are all private decisions. For those who feel that they should weigh in, let me stop you here. If a couple asks “What should we do?” then it is appropriate to give advice. In our case we never asked anyone for advice, except for our midwife, Mary Rose’s doctors, and our priest. We wanted to be sure that our decisions were ethical, that we were not denying our daughter anything as her parents. But life is life. She would either breathe on her own, or she would not. She would either eat, or not. And in our daughter’s case she did none of these things.

For people who don’t know what to say, say less. The comments I appreciated the most were “I don’t understand what you are going through, but I’m here for you.” That says I love you, but I won’t boss you around. It is somewhat comical the way people dispensed advice. One mother told me “I wouldn’t do anything. Just wait and believe that God will heal your baby. Do you pray? Do you believe in miracles?” That’s a great way to kick a woman already on her knees further down. I believe in miracles, but I also believe in accepting God’s will. I had carried a healthy child to term and I knew that my daughter’s body was not developing normally. If I had listened to this woman what would we have done with Mary Rose’s body? We had already purchased a plot and had a casket for the burial. She was buried within 26 hours of birth. I couldn’t exactly wait to see what would play out when the tests were 99.8% accurate.

The sweet baby, Grace Miriam, whom I mentioned in a previous post has full trisomy 18, spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Most people would have aborted Grace, but her parents, who are devout Catholics, carried Grace to term. She is alive and breathes on her own. Grace has survived surgery on her spine and surgery to place a shunt in her brain. A priest friend told Grace’s father that they should consider their time with Grace as Holy Hours. I am so grateful that our Creator “use[s] the foolish things of this world.” Grace is alive. We see life in the fragmentation of our individual lives, but what about the bigger picture of one, connected, pulsing Universe? How many lives is Grace touching? Why do humans think that one life is more valuable than another?

I think back on my pregnancy with Mary Rose and remember feeling so vulnerable and alone. May I suggest that if your friend or sister or cousin has had a troubling ultrasound or a miscarriage, that you offer her a box of tissues and a cup of tea? A hug. Shared tears. Unless you have ever been “diagnosed” with a pregnancy that is considered fatal, don’t offer advice. You really don’t know what you would do. Even my friend, Miko, whose son, Josh, died as an adult in a car accident agrees that she couldn’t give me advice on the pregnancy. You can’t know until you are standing there, hands on your belly, at the crossroads, feeling your child move, loving her no matter what.

Mother’s Day

IMG_0476Mother’s Day

I remember Mother’s Day one year ago when I was surprised by the intensity of my grief. It had been two months since my unborn daughter, Mary Rose, was diagnosed with a fatal illness. I was almost seven months pregnant. She moved inside me; her motions and limbs were tiny. I remember crying outside sitting on my green metal garden chair. I cried all day because I knew that this would be our only Mother’s Day physically together. People often tell me not to cry because I have a son. I am very grateful for my living child, but he cannot take away the grief of his sister’s fate.

This year is different. I’m just starting to come out of more than a year-long daze of shock and grief. I want to tell every mother whose child is gone through miscarriage or illness or accident, Cry. You have earned the right to cry. Well-meaning people tell us not to show our emotions, but we don’t have to hide the intensity of our path.

My dear friend, Daniela, sent me a present this week. It is a crocheted rose with Mary Rose’s name on the back, and it is the first gift that I have received honoring my daughter that hasn’t sent me into fits of weeping. It still stings to see a joyful, pregnant woman or a newborn girl. Doing family things and witnessing children growing and playing and being alive often still hurts. The first holidays after Mary Rose died were almost unbearable, except I’m still here.

Mother’s Day is a tough holiday. It excludes many people. For women who are infertile and childless it is a reminder of what they do not have. For people whose mothers are on the other side of the veil, there is a void, and for those of us whose children have died, what do we do with this rosy, cheery, pastel holiday? I’ve been thinking of my dear friend Louisa all week. Her mother and only son are on the other side of the veils, yet she meditates and lives her life with a vivacious grace that inspires me.

Louisa and I have both connected with the spirits of our children through prayer and meditation. We feel them close by and know that they are now intercessors, spirit guides and helpers, depending on the language you use. This year I propose that instead of listening to our sad thoughts that we are separate from the ones who have died, let’s think with our hearts. Our children’s souls are intact and if we think with our heart centers, reality shifts from a thinking place of lonely loss to a heart place of loving communion. This year I invite each of you whose children or mothers are not in an earthly body to light a candle and celebrate anyway. It is my great hope that we can celebrate this Mother’s Day with tearful smiles and an understanding that the veil is thin, that our loved ones speak to us and send us messages of love from their heavenly place.

I have been listening to Kari Samuels 28 Days of Angel Meditations this month. When she says Archangel Gabriel, please come, I feel such peace. I choose to say Mary Rose, come, and Louisa chooses to say Colin, come. We are not separate from our children who continue to live through us and with us.

I am married to a man who is very sensible and practical, and he’s married to a former English major who sees symbolism everywhere. I carry feathers into the house proclaiming that they are signs from my daughter saying that she loves me. He tells me that birds molt. On New Year’s Day I found a heart shaped rock in the middle of a brick outside when I stepped out of the car after our long trip back from New York. I had asked for a sign from my daughter that she is still with me. I was so sad thinking that this year, 2015, would start without her. I believe that these gifts come from my daughter, but my husband says, Coincidence.

This spring my husband turned the grill on under a flowering dogwood tree. One petal landed in the middle of his big hand and he said it looked like a heart and he thought of Mary Rose. He said that all the dogwood petals looked like hearts this year.

I wish for each of you to find hearts and roses and feathers this Mother’s Day, because our dear children are still our children. They love us, and we are their mothers on this plane, and the Mother’s Day gifts that we receive cannot be found in a Hallmark store.

Come, Sweet Child, Sweet Mother, Aunt, Friend, Come, this Mother’s Day and show us the truth about Life.

Healing Companion

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Healing Companion

It is almost a year since I met the artist, Sindy Lorraine Strosahl. She came to my house on April 30th, a rainy Wednesday, to deliver my painting, Healing Companion. I knew of Sindy through my midwife who had one of her paintings of a pregnant woman in her office. I fell in love with the vibrant colors and decided that I would like to have an image to commemorate my two pregnancies, especially since I was childless for 15 years in what feels like another lifetime.

When we received news of our daughter’s fatal condition, I messaged Sindy and told her. She meditated and connected to the soul of my unborn child and painted the image that you see here. When Sindy went to her car to get the painting, the torrential downpour stopped long enough for her to walk into my house. Healing Companion is a mixed-media collage. Sindy cut out pieces of the pages of a gardening book. I was so excited when I saw words in Mary Rose’s and my hair. My dress is fabric that she painted. The 3-D view of this image, with the ancestors as yellow orbs surrounding me, is so powerful that almost everyone who see the original walks away with tears in her eyes.

One painting. One mother. One child. Sometimes I feel like a grain of sand in a vast lineage of mothers whose children have died. Who am I to think that this should not have happened? Loss and death are all around us though we choose to ignore it much of the time. Sometimes babies die. Sometimes children die. Mary Rose lived and died. But that word, Companion, is so real. She is here with me. Her DNA is in my body. I think of her often throughout the day as I take care of my son, as I wash a cup or spend time outside watching my plants blossom. She is my companion and my heart center feels her soul is as alive as any of our souls.

Sindy, who also photographed Mary Rose’s birth and witnessed her brief life, is now a doula. Mary Rose changed my life she says. And she’s not the only one. Healing Companion has comforted many mothers. The print hangs in a birthing center in Michigan, the card is in an apartment in Romania. I like to think of a web connecting the mothers who gaze at this image remembering their children. And we are their mothers still. Some women do not birth living children. Some women do not have any living children. For many these challenging pregnancies are their first. I am honored that my request for this painting is helping others.

It has taken me some time to acknowledge that the pregnant woman in Healing Companion is strong and graceful, that perhaps I am strong and graceful as Sindy painted me. In the painting, I am perfectly centered and focused on my pregnancy and baby. I neither felt strong during my pregnancy nor did I feel graceful as I limped around in extreme back pain for the last weeks waiting for my baby girl, still or breathing. But sometimes I catch a glimpse of my resolve in the image, and sometimes I feel that perfect peace knowing that everything is as it should be. Mary Rose, at my side; my three-year old son holding my hand, leading me to his train tracks once again.

This morning I had a few messages from my friend, Isabel, whose brother and sister-in-law are in labor today. Their daughter, Grace Miriam, has many challenges and may not live long. I lit two candles for this baby today and cried remembering Mary Rose’s birth in a pool under Healing Companion. Did I mention that Sindy was trying to paint an androgynous, adult angel, but the image that emerged persisted? Mary Rose looked like that angel, so much like her father. I hope that Grace Miriam’s life is a blessing for all those who encounter her. Her parents are courageous and loving. They are waiting to embrace her, no matter what she looks like, no matter what her condition.

And at the end of our lives, what will we remember? Not what we ate today or what show we watched, or who we did or didn’t call, but that endless and boundless love that flows from our Creator, the love that lives in each of us with potential to grow and bear much fruit throughout our days, whether they are few or many.

(Prints and cards can be purchased through the link on the Resources page of this blog. And no, I do not profit financially from any of these sales.)