Monday, March 2, 2015

My Invisible Child

I have an invisible child.

Like an imaginary friend, he exists largely by my own creation. I see him throughout my day. Standing behind me as I fix a breakfast of cereal, sitting by my chair as I nurse, or watching festivities from a distance.
You cannot see him. He isn't there, but I imagine him there, pasted onto everything.

At the grocery store you would see me with my two visible children, one trying to be helpful by putting things into the cart and the other with fat cheeks reaching his arms staring wide-eyed at everything, he is barely six months old. The invisible child is where? Running around the cart? Barreling into displays and legs and requesting to be up then down then up in my arms again. My imagination runs wild with scenarios and situations and shared experiences. His presence has been made louder by the birth of my third child, I see that gap between my two boys and it is filled with wonder. 
No, I am not demented, my invisible child is dead. There is no soft way to say it. He died before he even took a breath. Thirty-nine weeks within my body and for some reason his life was erased before it ever began. He was stillborn, never taking a single breath. But his heart beat, and his legs kicked and he rolled around within me and for months I anticipated him. His future, his personality, his love. I practiced exercising my imagination, dreaming up the world that would spin with him upon it.
I mothered him before he was born too. I rubbed my belly feeling for feet and elbows. Searching thrift stores for tiny clothes. Finding a bassinet to keep in our room, to keep him near me. We prepared a name; James. We were still trying to decide on a middle name.

What I mean to say is, he was real. I roared him out of me and as he was place upon my chest I thought for a moment, “They had it all wrong!” But no, he was already gone.
For a time, after his loss, I ignored this invisible child. I tried to make everything go back to before. Before I was pregnant. Before hopes for a life unlived occurred. We went back to being a family of three and I focused my energy on what I had rather than what I lacked. If I focused hard enough, I didn’t have to see him waiting there. Waiting to be included, to be felt, to be a part of our family.
Then I was pregnant again. A mixture of elation and anxiety. Would lightning strike twice? Would I fall into the unlucky lottery once again? The reality of stillbirth was no longer lost on me. This one arrived and with him an unexpected sensation. Of course happiness reigned supreme, how can it not with a newborn to hold? But all the joy that this newborn brought with him was coupled with a clarity of what we had really lost. Baby sighs, giggles, rolling over, fat bellies and chunky knees. What would have been like with him?

I have two visible children who are growing and learning and smiling and one you cannot see. One who I imagine is right there with us. As we play in the morning sun, watching our new one giggle, a pause in the air—a stillness leads my mind to adding in an 18 month-old. I instantly see chaos and stress that comes with that age but even more, I see his smile and I feel his love.

They always ask, “How many?” and I hesitate to respond, because it is hard to say. I make mention of my invisible child, “one who passed, James” and the air halts with making mention of his life. My heart twists out the words and freezes in suspense for the response.

A simple sorry and change in subject tells me that they don’t want to see this child. The world is already so sad, no need to be more aware of it. 

Sometimes though, sometimes he is seen. “Three boys! Wow,” one exclaimed naturally, looking up to the sky. My heart lit up. You see him too!

“Yes, three boys.” 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A glimpse of my heaven.

I have been wanting to write more in this space, to share thoughts and ideas. But man oh man....sometimes there is too much to write about and I can't sort out the jumbled mess inside my head. The interconnectedness of it all is overwhelming. Like a spider web, all the areas of my life are like a thread and they overlap and influence each other and because of that, things can go sour really quickly. Conversely, things can get amped up in happiness quantities just as easily.

I can find a lot to complain about and I am REALLY good at complaining. I would get an A+ if grades were ever given for our murmuring capabilities. I notice the problems and study how they affect EVERYTHING in my life and pretty soon I am wallowing and encouraging everyone to join in with me.

I try not to, but sometimes it just gets the better of me.

They say happiness is choice that you have to make everyday and sometimes it is just really really really really really hard to choose it. You wake up tired, you are trying to be a mom that your child will remember with fondness, you are trying to keep up with all the good choices you know you should make as well as all the basic necessary choices of keeping a home livable and enough money in the bank.

Add on life's trials and it is enough to make anyone want to crawl up into a ball, under the covers, fervently praying for angels to descend and take care of it all for you, just for one day at least.

It makes me overwhelmed just thinking about it. But these boys, oh man.

A smile, a chuckle, a hug from them blows all of that away. It is the strangest phenomenon to experience. When you feel like you might collapse with the weight of to do lists and spit up and tantrums, they flip it all around in an instant.

They impact EVERYTHING and when one thing goes wrong, it quickly starts hitting other areas of life. Lack of sleep becomes stress which becomes a short temper which become lack of patience and on and on and on. But when it is good, it blows everything out of the water with this sickly sweet, heart-swelling, bursting forth with joy goodness. When they smile and act sweetly you remember why you signed up for this. Why you made the choice to raise a family and why, despite you are poor in many temporal things, you are rich in love.

And with that love, you experience a glimpse of heaven.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Comparison of Faces and Other thoughts on Motherhood Right Now

The Evidence:

                                             Max                                                 Daniel

                                      Max                                                        Daniel

A resemblance is obvious but I conclude that Daniel has a much larger jowl and a more defined cleft chin. Maxwell's bottom lip is tad more noticeable and his hair was darker. They have the exact same nose though. 

Other findings not related to physical resemblance:

They both drool like the dickens! (Who made up "like the dickens!"?...) Daniel is much bigger than Maxwell ever was, in fact at 4 months he is already in 6 month clothing....which in the end is helpful because it allows me to maximize on Max's hand-me-downs seasonally. Poor Daniel is having a much more enthusiastic and energetic infancy than Max ever did, due to Maxwell himself. Max LOVES to shout in his face and tries to keep him alert at all times. I imagine it as a mini baby boot camp and Max is the drill sergeant, "BABY DANNY! LOOK OVER HERE BABY DANNY!!!!!!BABY DANNY! BABY DANNY!" Lots and Lots of stimulation. 

He is not without quiet moments though, because he LOVES to be held and carried and cooed at by all adults as well and we do so as often as we are able.

What a treasure these two are with their grey-blue eyes and easy grins. They love to laugh and I love to see them laugh and will resort to doing ridiculous things in an effort to make them smile, but like I said they are an easy sell for smiling so most of the time I am just doing ridiculous things because I am a bit eccentric. 

What an honor it is to be a mother, to be their mother. They are the reason I don't get a full night's sleep. They are the reason all of my clothes smell weird. They are the reason for many prayers and much stress but for some reason, all of that adds up to joy. It adds up to a sheer happiness that is unexplained. A giddiness that defies logic and sense. Babies don't keep, but the joy that they bring sure does.

(Don't eye-roll me for all of this sappiness...eye-roll the oxytocin from nursing.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

"What IS this?"

The other day our family was leaving a holiday work party when Max asked for a drink of water in the car. I fumbled around at my feet in the passenger seat of the car, feeling for a stray water bottle I try to keep near for moments like this. All I could find was one HUGE apple juice container that we had filled with water on a recent hike.

"Here give him this," Kyle says as he hands me a small water bottle he had grabbed from the party.

The only problem was this wasn't regular water, it was with a "splash of lemon." Basically this water tasted like really weak, artificially sweetened lemonade.

"He isn't going to like this..." I warned.

"He won't even notice, in fact I bet he will like it," Kyle countered back.

I reached my arm back to Max and Max willingly grabbed at the water, took one drink, and sincerely shrieked,

"What IS this?!?!?!"

It was hilarious.

That is what Max is these days. A mix of hilarity and curiosity that keeps me on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next thing he will say. Sometimes when he talks to me I get sidetracked thinking...but you were inside me once, just a tiny little thing, and then you depended on me for everything and here you are chatting it up about pajamas and candy and letters. 

"Mom, what letter starts with wall and firetruck and parking garage?" At bedtime we have switched from me singing a requested song to snuggles where we talk letters and a lot of other random things like friends and choices made that day and the way things work. I can see his brain trying to figure this world out and it is FASCINATING.

"Hey Mom? Can I watch Human?" He requests.

"Human?" I query back, not sure of what he is referring to.

"That show where the human leaves the north pole and throws snowballs...." He goes on trying to explain what he means. Logically, Elf should be called Human if you really think about it...

Max is my strong-willed boy. He makes big expressions and uses his whole body to talk and explain. He is a master at playing pretend, especially when it involves fighting bad dragons. Playing with Dad is the clear highlight of his day and he continues to be the best helper with Daniel. He has nothing but love to give his brother.

"MOM!!!!!!" He comes running into the bathroom as I am finishing getting ready for church.

"What is it love?" As he rushes in, tears are streaming down his face. He was watching the start of Prince of Egypt and Moses' mother had just put him in a basket into the river and watched it float away...

"The mommy needs her baby!" He continues to cry, "She needs her baby back."

What do you say to that? Especially after all we have been through, this small scene became so very real for him. He doesn't understand much in regards to James but I think he understood what it would mean to lose Daniel and it terrified him. My heart softened in that moment, oftentimes it is hard to see beyond my own grief and emotions. But in that moment I was reminded of my beautiful firstborn, a boy who continually surprises me with his depth of character at the age of three.

He is never not fascinating.

(As before, all of these beautiful photos were taken by the VERY talented Hannah D Photography.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

That Balance of Laughter and Tears

We had the VERY talented Hannah of Hannah D Photography take some family photos of us recently. I plan on sharing a few in the next few posts.

I remember thinking vividly during Daniel's pregnancy, "When he comes then I will be happy/free/healed."

I side-eye myself for thinking that now...

I mean, I know where those thoughts came from. They were clinging tightly to the hope that sadness and grief is something one can end. That it is finite.  I thought to myself, if I have a baby in my arms to love and snuggle, then my focus can shift and I can stop thinking about what it would be like if James was here.
I feel bad for doing that to Daniel, for piling up so much expectations upon him as an infant. Thankfully, I realized that while Daniel brings an immense amount of joy, he needs to be his own person, he brings a joy and peace that does heal but it doesn't end the longing for James.

Losing James brought about an awareness of trials in my life. Before I walked with ease noticing hardship around me but I held it at arms length. Sadness did not need to touch my happy life thank you very much. But when you go through an immense sadness, one that stays around forever, that you think about everyday, that gets easier with time but never ends, you start to analyze how other people handle it all. Do they talk about it still? Do they shove it in the closet and grieve when it bursts out around important dates and occasions? Do they wallow in that sadness, declaring that joy is NOT possible anymore? Are they quiet, sharing with close friends, opening up to only those who they know will not trample upon the tenderness that remains? Do they never talk at all?

It fascinates me really.
Perhaps I thought there was a correct way, after all I lost both of my most beloved grandparents as a teen and it was certainly sad and I cried with real sadness for the first time. I loved them both dearly and often I love thinking about all the amazing memories I got to share with them. But it didn't shake me the way losing a child has, a loss that was so very much a part of me. I lost a part of my life that never was able to come to fruition. It became an existential crisis constantly plaguing my thoughts. If he had lived...who would I be? Would I still be keeping that hard sadness at an arm's length?
Where was I going with this? Oh yes, how people handle grief.

I suppose it is obvious that there isn't one correct way, but there are certainly healthy and unhealthy habits associated with grief. The main one being coming to the conclusion that joy is impossible to achieve after loss. It certainly feels that way, pretty much 99% of the time, but I know with a surety that God did not intend for us to be miserable. He does not want sadness to consume our very being.

Sadness and grief and longing and anger are all a part of this mortal experience. We need to know these emotions, these deep and difficult feelings. We need to acknowledge them but not run away with them.
I see so many who are consumed by their grief, so much so that it keeps them from being happy for those around them. I get it, trust me. There was a period there where I didn't feel like anyone else deserved a baby if I didn't get mine. I don't know exactly why we lost James, why I had to experience this sadness, but I do know that to let the sadness envelop me and take over would be to let darkness win. I now know that my longing for him is for always, and no one can fill his void except him. But in the meantime I can look up from that hole that my focus lands on and see the joy and happiness around me. I can see that joy and participate within it, I can smile and laugh and it doesn't mean I am covering up the hole or ignoring it. I just know deep down in my heart that each of our loved ones so desperately want us to be happy despite it all. To find that balance of laughter and tears and live with them together.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Choosing A Name

We chose Daniel's name carefully when we were still living the life of a graduate student family, traveling from city to city, our dressers were suitcases and our beds were graciously offered by the kindness of others.

I wanted his name to reflect this journey or at least reflect the endpoint. I searched online and in books. I desperately wanted something that meant "light" or "life" but for boy names this was hard to do. We went over our family names and none seemed quite right. Daily, I would create a new list of possibilities and then offer them up in our nightly discussions. Many grimaces were made. 

We are both traditionalists when it comes to names, but Kyle tends to have much stronger opinions relating to less used names. He grew up in a swarm of other boys names Kyle and found that as a child, each new Kyle was a new friend. I, on the other hand, grew up with two very unique names--my full name being Virginia and the name I went by being Gina. The first Virginia I met was my 8th grade English teacher and the first Gina I encountered was at 17, working up at camp. I reveled in the uniqueness, it made me feel special and I always imagined how awful it must be to have to go by your first name AND your last initial. 
So the debate went on for awhile until we came down to two names Henry and Daniel. I was on team Henry and Kyle was voting for Daniel. Henry means, "ruler of the home" and Daniel means, "God is my judge,"so clearly we had jumped off the name with deep meaning train because it was impossible to find one that really felt right. Kyle and I liked both names overall and so one evening we sat Maxwell down and asked him what the baby's name should be, "Do you think his name should be Daniel or Henry?" 

I posed the question, hoping my favorite would win and that Max even understood the question we were asking him. Then Max said in the most matter-of-fact tone, "His name is Daniel," and promptly turned around to play with a toy. We looked at each other incredulously. He had decided so quickly and assertively that we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. Well then, a name had been chosen. 
Baby Daniel, I would repeat over and over when I was alone. I wasn't entirely happy with the meaning of the name, "God is my judge." What was that supposed to mean? I had come to terms with Henry's meaning in that it is a great responsibility to be a ruler, a ruler is one who is to serve, to help and aid and surely this baby would do that for our home. But how was I supposed to come to terms with the meaning of Daniel? It felt so.... I don't know, unfeeling?

Then one day I was reading the words of the president and prophet of our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He used the story of Daniel to demonstrate the principle of  having courage. He said,
"Our scriptures are filled with examples of the type of courage needed by each of us today. The prophet Daniel exhibited supreme courage by standing up for that which he knew to be right and by demonstrating the courage to pray, though threatened with death were he to do so."

As I read these words, it became clear what "God is my judge" also meant. It means courage to stand for your principles, courage to do what is hard, courage to not let outside forces stop you from doing what you know it right.

Suddenly, Daniel felt perfect. I needed courage for his pregnancy and daily I found it. To put faith and hope in a happy, safe delivery. To trust that my body could take care of another. The courage to be a mother and to be happy within my circumstances.

Choosing his middle name also held deep meaning to us. There is a man who taught scripture classes when both Kyle and I attended the University of Washington and over the years he has become a mentor and most importantly family to us. When I was laboring with James, it was an insert in my scriptures with an explanation he had written of a particular scripture (Isaiah 61:1-3) that allowed me to accept the trial that I was given. The scrap of paper had been placed there years in advance, but in that moment, it was everything. It gave me clarity and allowed for my heart to be open to the spirit that was there in that room. To recognize that in our darkest moments, God is there. Giving us aid and transforming us.

We called him and talked to him about losing James and then we asked him if he would come to the burial to speak. Kyle and I were both planning on speaking, forming small talks to offer to our families. Our hope was that his words would be an offering to us. I didn't expect him to come, not because he wouldn't but because there were many circumstances in his life that made it difficult. But he came, and with him, I was reminded that Heavenly Father does answer prayers and most often he does it through people, earthly angels. His presence was like a salve, calming and healing to the wounds I felt.

Over this past year I have come to recognize more and more that the lessons he taught me when I was new to religion, new to having a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have carried me time and time again. Daily my mind will remember words he said, a principle he helped me to discover, or a story told that had deeper meaning. He taught me how to look for God's hand in my life and those lessons have proved invaluable in my day to day interactions. He has been a great teacher and example to not only me, but our entire family and so the middle name Todd was chosen for our precious Daniel.

Names are so important and the stories behind each name is equally important. I want my children to know who they were named after and why. I want them to draw from those names when they need it, to look to their namesakes for inspiration and guidance and to live up to those names when the time comes.