Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sewing projects, tiny kicks, and hope.

Anticipating this baby's arrival has been a beautiful thing. I've been teaching myself to sew the last few months and getting to make things for the baby to use (a changing pad cover, which the cat thinks is for her, a cozy fleece jumpsuit for chilly winter days, tiny hats to go on a tiny head) has been a wonderful way to look forward to October.

This baby has begun to make its presence known tangibly. I wondered a few times whether the sensations I felt could signal a baby rolling around in my uterus, but on Monday, May 4, I knew with certainty that the bump I felt was the baby. A thrill of excitement ran through me - hello, baby! You're in there and you're real!

Grief is not a linear journey by any means. I was amazed at how immediately healing it was to be pregnant again after losing Wendell, but looking back even to that wonderful day in early February when we found out that I'm carrying another baby, I realize that that day was four months to the day from Wendell's birth. Four months between losing my dear second baby, my first son, and learning that my third baby was growing inside me, the size of a grain of rice. Four months is not a long time, not in the lifespan of grief. And it isn't that my grief has disappeared, but it has become much more bearable. The new life inside me is not a replacement baby, but does offer a sweet balm of healing and holds the promise that my arms will be filled with a baby soon. I'm looking forward to the process of giving birth so much, not because I think it will be easy or picture perfect, but because I'm holding on to the massive hope that at the end of the hard work of labor I'll get to hold my living, breathing child in my arms and cry tears of joy over his or her safe arrival into this world. 

I couldn't say that I've "recovered" from Wendell's death, but I also never felt that his death devastated me. It was immensely painful and felt very wrong, as I knew intuitively that his proper place was with me, his mother, and that anything else was against how things should be. But I didn't feel broken from losing him, no matter how desperately I missed him.

Grief has come and gone in waves. I don't cry much anymore when I remember Wendell, but it happens at times I don't expect. We've tried a new faith community lately and the first couple times I attended I felt a sense of Wendell's presence and fought back tears the entire time. I couldn't say what brought it about, he was just very close to me at that time.

I feel that Wendell's life and death have become integrated into who I am, into my life's story. With some distance from the initial loss I can see the path that I've been on that is due to his life and I feel enormous gratitude and peace. I can see how my son has taught me so much. I'm a better person because he existed and was real. I feel a great sense of honor that I was privileged to be his mother and to hold him in my body for his entire life. He was a special little being, one that was a part of me yet separate and unique in his own way. I don't believe that it was any god's purpose for Wendell to die, that it was for a greater good, yet I do believe that his death was not in vain and that his life was not meaningless. It was sacred and precious and he touched people who never got to meet him.

That's something I hold onto. And in talking to friends, I can see how he affected lives beyond my own, leading to spiritual growth.

I was talking to a dear friend recently and realized that this pregnancy feels like it's stretched on forever because in a sense, it feels like I've been pregnant since last March. Like I've been gestating for 14 months already and have four and a half yet to go. In fact, when I added up the time, I've been pregnant for about eleven of the last fourteen months. No wonder it feels like this has been a long, long journey towards the hope of a baby in my arms. 

When I was pregnant with Wendell and eagerly awaiting his arrival, I dreamed of nighttime snuggles, the bond of breastfeeding, carrying him with me everywhere -- but those longings weren't able to be fulfilled with his birth. His birth brought an absence rather than the constant presence that I hoped for. It feels like I've been longing for my arms to be filled for over a year and makes it seem that this pregnancy has stretched much longer than the 20 weeks that have passed. The presence of a baby in my life has been long awaited for years now; we anticipated a baby's creation years before Wendell was conceived. In truth, the longing to meet a living child has been over three years in the making.

As this tiny, thirteen ounce baby bumps around inside me, beginning to make his or her presence known as it grows bigger and stronger by the day, I feel that much more excited to hold this baby in my arms and give it the mama love I've been growing for years now. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Body is Strong and Providing All That My Baby Needs

It's hard to grasp that I'm in the midst of - over a third of the way through! - my third pregnancy. My second pregnancy in less than a year. These last two babies sure did come back to back, to our surprise. Wendell took his sweet time in getting conceived - we waited for him to be created for well over two years - but this new baby decided to come along within two months. And we are so glad it happened that way. I can call myself the mama of three children now.

I've been amazed to be experiencing my most peaceful and calm pregnancy yet. This pregnancy is the one where I have the most reason to be fearful - with my first, Maggie arrived way ahead of schedule at 33 weeks, and of course Wendell didn't make it out safely into the world. I did have some fears early on in this pregnancy, having such a great awareness now of all that can and does go wrong in some pregnancies. After my first short doctor appointment a few weeks ago, I felt like I hit a turning point. At that appointment we got to hear the baby's heartbeat briefly, which was amazing, but something else came up that was concerning to me and the doctor did not do a good job of reassuring me. After working myself into a panic and spending a couple hours scouring the Internet for information, I came to this simple but profound epiphany: I did not want a pregnancy filled with fear and I was the one responsible for figuring out how to do that. I had to CHOOSE peace and trust over fear, had to make an active decision, because otherwise my hormones and fearful thoughts would be running rampant. 

Somehow that has made all the difference. A wonderful new friend suggested using affirmations, such as, "My body is strong and is providing all that my baby needs." Actively replacing the negative, fearful thoughts with positive, affirming ones has been huge. Do I know that these positive ideas do not always come true? Well, yes. Obviously things do not always work out as I'd like them to. Babies die and that has always been a part of the story of motherhood. But I can choose to believe that this pregnancy will be a different story for me than the story of Wendell. 

I'm choosing to live each day, one at a time, in immense gratitude and hope. Every day I touch my belly and say, "I am so grateful that my baby is growing inside me, safe and strong, and that my body is nourishing my baby." I can't predict what will happen at the end of this pregnancy, at 28 weeks or at 33 weeks or at 40 weeks. I don't know if I'll have preterm labor again or if I will lose another baby to stillbirth. I'm not guaranteed anything. But I do trust that whatever comes, I will be ok. My needs will be met. And I am thankful that today, as far as I know, my baby is growing well and I am doing fine. I can't look beyond today, I can only do what is right for today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Miracle of Birth: Twin lambs

Mama Tastebud picked the most idyllic spot to give birth: a peaceful corner of the pasture, secluded and surrounded by pine trees. As the sun filtered down through the trees and we sat on the ground, we felt exceedingly grateful to have been present at such a sacred moment. And I've got to say, as a pregnant lady it's majorly inspiring to see the ease of animal births.

I've read that though birth is now a highly medicalized event in American culture, most modern midwives (most notably, the wonderful and deservedly famous Ina May Gaskin) believe that something like 98% of the time, women are perfectly capable of having a fully natural birth without interventions -- and I've heard almost exactly the same statistic from sheep farmers. The vast majority of sheep give birth to their lambs easily and without incident, only very occasionally needing a helping hand from the farmer. Inspiring, indeed!

Here's the birth video: it's not too bloody, but there's definitely some gooey things going on and it's no holds barred! I think it's amazing to see how easily baby number two just slipped right out. (Pardon the heavy breathing on the video -- I was excited, plus have been short of breath right from the beginning of this pregnancy!)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just one, but TWO new additions to our farm

Last Friday we welcomed adorable newborn ewe lamb Tallulah to the farm. Maggie and I got to watch her birth out of our kitchen window, then rushed to get to meet her within her first minutes of life, while she was covered in gloop and being licked clean by her mama. 

It was a pretty special experience, but we had an even more exciting experience the day before Tallulah's birth: we found out that we'll have another new addition to the farm in October 2015. That's right.  I am pregnant again and all three of us are absolutely overwhelmed with excitement and joy. When I first saw the two lines on the pregnancy test I couldn't stop grinning. Maggie bounced off the walls the rest of the day, she was so thrilled. 

 I feel peace in embracing the joy of expecting this new member of our family, my third baby. Do I fear that this baby will leave us as Wendell did, that we will experience another stillbirth or miscarriage? The thought is in the back of my mind, of course, and in my experience pregnancy goes hand in hand with anxiety naturally anyway, but right now the most prominent feeling I have is peace. I know I can survive losing a baby, that my marriage can survive, that my daughter can survive. And really, not only survive, but come out stronger and wiser and more in touch with life and love and reality. 

I suppose sometime soon I need to share in this space about the process of Wendell's birth. I feel deeply that how he was born, the support I had, the thoroughly spiritual experience I had of laboring naturally with my husband at my side, the connection I had with my dear midwife Joanne, has very much informed how I feel now about Wendell's birth and death. I look back at our story and think, "I was not traumatized by this birth. I am not afraid to get pregnant and give birth again." I had a birth that I am proud of. 

There's a lot to be thankful for with this new baby, even as we continue to miss having Wendell here with us. It is a bittersweet joy because I know that if Wendell had been born healthy on his due date, we'd have a seven week old baby boy instead of a six week old new pregnancy. This new baby wouldn't exist if Wendell was alive. But that is okay, to feel those conflicting emotions. I don't feel a need to separate my emotions and am okay with whatever they need to be during this pregnancy: joy, grief, gratitude, peace, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger. Whatever emotions need to come will come and we will all get through them and be all the stronger for them.

For now, I'm basking in the joy of carrying new life... and keeping my fingers crossed that with this pregnancy I can avoid the intense morning sickness I had with Wendell. ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Little Homestead

Really, this is why I love homeschooling so much -- because a "school day" means reading one of my favorite childhood books in bed on a cold and rainy morning, snuggled under the warm comforter, still in our pajamas with the cat purring at our feet.

We've begun the Little House series of books, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods. This morning we read about Pa smoking venison in a dead hollow tree, a panther chasing Grandpa through the woods, and Laura and Mary helping Ma churn butter.

I've got plenty of wonderful activities and related projects planned for us - yes, of course we will be churning butter! Homeschool isn't always fun or easy, but it's often this enjoyable and I relish these moments spent together happily learning.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Strong Girls and an Intention for the New Year

I've got a blue t-shirt that I inherited from Josh. Maggie has a matching shirt in red; Josh got it at a 5k run he and Maggie did last June, when I was about three months pregnant with Wendell.

The 5k was called "Strong Girls" and the logo is emblazoned on both the front and back of the shirt. I picked this shirt as the one to bring to the hospital as part of my "going home" outfit. I picked it because it was soft and loose-fitting and because I knew I'd need the reminder -- I am a Strong Girl. I can do hard things.

I picked that shirt out of my dresser only hours after the middle-of-the-night ultrasound that showed our son had no heartbeat. Earlier that morning, after a sleepless night, I sat in the bathtub blankly staring at the wall, wondering how I was going to get through what I knew I had to get through. How was I going to labor to deliver my dear son, knowing that there would be only silence when he entered the world? How could it be that I had to do this huge, wrenchingly sad thing? There was no one else who could go through the process for me. I would have to do it all myself. The only way through the dark valley was to walk through it.

I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the last moments I spent with my baby son, after the six hours that I labored without pain medication while Pitocin-induced contractions ripped through my body. I wore that Strong Girl shirt during the moments when I laid Wendell's body out on the bed and looked at every tiny part of his tiny self and kissed him and told him I loved him. I leaked milk all down the front as I kissed him and it seemed appropriate because I was so craving the ability to nurture him, to take care of him, even as I knew I had to prepare myself to get up and leave him. I wore that Strong Girl shirt as I handed his body to the nurse, walked down the hall out of the Maternity wing, and exited the hospital.

If I've learned anything this last year, it is this: I am a Strong Girl. I've borne two children in my life and have buried one. I've labored for six hours on Pitocin with no pain medication. I've learned to ask for help and to receive it when it is offered. I've learned to love myself, to have confidence in my own ability. I've produced milk and given almost 500 ounces to feed other mamas' infants. I've come out holding life as all the more precious. I've learned there is strength in weakness and that walking in vulnerability is a beautiful thing.

I went through most of my life thinking I was a failure, a flake. I didn't think I could follow through with anything. I felt doomed to destroying relationships, to shattering my own hopes. Early in life I had absorbed the message that I was inherently wrong at the core and no amount of self-help books or pep talks could wipe that away.

Last year, I began to believe something new: that I had inherent worth and goodness in my core. As the veil of self-hatred and self-doubt began to lift, I began to be able to tap into inner resources I never realized I had. I received love and support from other women who had been in the same dark place that I had and had come out on the other side. I was told over and over again, by their actions and words, that what happened in my life was important and that I was loved and cared for and worthy of good things. Worthy of health and a life lived fully and in the light.

As I've learned about self-care, I've seen how when I put myself first, I have so much more to give.

My intention for this year is simple in theory, yet complex in execution: To love myself more deeply. To love myself right where I am, not when I lose ten pounds or get up early every day or cook dinner every night. To love myself in all my beautiful, broken, imperfect humanity and embrace the wholeness that comes with authentic imperfection. To remember that I am a Strong Girl and capable of doing strong things.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Leaving 2014 Behind

A dear friend asked me this week how New Year's was for me. In truth, it wasn't easy. It isn't easy moving into a new year because this new year, 2015, is one in which Wendell won't be alive. He was alive and present in my life in 2014 and moving on from that year feels like moving on from him. I know I can't go back to when he was alive. I would if I could. Even so, it hurts to move forward.

I've got friends who had hard things, very hard things and great losses, happen in 2014. And some of them have said "good riddance" to 2014. And I understand that. But to me, 2014 was a precious year. The year my son was alive in my womb for seven months. The year I met him and saw his precious face and held him close. The year I said goodbye to him and saw his body buried in a little plastic box under about two feet of soil.

Wendell will always be a part of me, yes, a part of my life. He's in my heart forever. But he won't be a living part of my life for any year other than 2014. That's tough. It feels like one more layer of separation between me and him. As much as I want to move on, to be happy, and know that I honor Wendell's life and death in that way, I hate to feel I'm leaving him behind.

The same dear friend who read the words I texted her reminded me of what I said after having to leave Wendell's body with the nurses in the hospital -- that when I was pregnant, looking forward to being Wendell's mother, I never thought I would leave my baby. I never should have had to leave him. And the passing of time hurts in a similar way. I have to move on because I have no choice, in the same way that I had no choice but to leave his tiny body in the arms of the labor and delivery nurse at the hospital. I move on because it's what I have to do and I do it simply by doing it.  That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, though, and that I don't miss Wendell awfully.

With that said, I look back on 2014 and am grateful for it all -- the joy, the pain, the deepening appreciation for what I have and what I have lost. I am a better person because of the life of my small son. Last year is one I'll treasure always and as I move forward into this new year I have faith that it will be filled with beauty and tears of both joy and sadness. I welcome it all.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Due Date

Tomorrow is Wendell's due date. I have it penciled in to my daily planner. Maggie wrote on her Littlest Petshop calendar, for the month of December, "WENDELL'S FRST BRTHDAY." 

But it won't be.

I'm in that strange place now where mostly, I'm ok. Really, I am functioning close to normalcy. No more nights of waking up sobbing or days of walking through an exhausted fog. The new difficulty to tackle is that it all seems normal - and this normal everyday life makes me question things. Did Wendell really exist? His birth seems like it was long ago, maybe even something that happened to someone else. Am I forgetting my baby? Already I don't think of him every minute or every hour. Will it eventually be that there are days at a time when I forget that I even had a beautiful little son who didn't survive?

I had rather a perfect encounter this week that showed me otherwise. I had been referred by a friend to a lady she said had been through a similar experience. When I called that lady, she told me about her son who she had lost two days after birth -- twenty-six years ago. In fact, this week was his birth day anniversary. As she spoke of her baby, she wept. Twenty-six years later, she wept remembering her long-gone son.

That was what I needed. Reassurance that never would I ever forget Wendell. 

He was a part of my body for seven months, fused together with my flesh. He will be a part of me always.

We haven't yet picked out a headstone for Wendell's tiny grave, which is just a few miles away in a community cemetery. That stone seems so final - a last hurdle to jump, one more time that I know I will cry in public in front of strangers, just as I sobbed in front of the kindly wheelchair-bound funeral director at the funeral home as he showed us the tiny, tiny white plastic coffin that would be Wendell's last resting place. 

How do you decide the words that will be carved into stone to tell the world what you felt about this tiny being who was there then gone? The words that keep coming back to me are "Always loved, never forgotten." Because that is the truest truth there is. I won't forget my son. Even if I'm not prostrate on the floor with grief every day, I will always be sad he isn't here with us, where he belongs.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fears Cast to the Wind

Here's what I think every mama does: looks at those comforting statistics that say hey, once you get past about 20 weeks your chances of miscarrying drop drastically to about 2%. But that statistic becomes a huge anvil coming at your head when you realize, wait - two percent means that two mamas out of every hundred lose their baby. Then the odds seem much more real and less on your side. In fact, the odds weren't in my favor or in Wendell's favor and that is a hard thing. 

We are on the verge of trying for our second baby, our third child. It is exciting and confusing and I feel a little mixed up but then again not really because I know, I know, I know in my heart that Wendell will always be with me. He'll always be my firstborn son and I will always love him and wanting another baby doesn't change any of that one iota, any more than creating Wendell and loving him changed my love for Maggie. Each of my children are individual and precious and that's set in stone.

We are barging ahead, full speed, fears cast to the wind because the alternative is to be bogged down in terror and that's not what I want. And the alternative, for me, would be to negate the joy of Wendell's existence. I'd conceive and carry him all over again a thousand times, even if I knew that every time would have the same outcome, that he'd never get to come home with us. Even though he didn't survive, he still existed. He was still part of our family. He still grew inside me and I got to hold him closer than I've ever held anyone besides Maggie. We still got to meet him, hold him in our arms, see his sweet face, tell him we loved him. The honor of all those things, the honor of knowing Wendell, that made all the pain worth it. 

The doctor who delivered Wendell told us that he doesn't know why our baby died. In something like 60% of stillbirths the cause is unknown, so parents usually don't ever get a conclusive answer. Thankfully, the OB who delivered Wendell has no reservations with us trying to make another baby. I've got a point in my favor that I've carried a healthy pregnancy already - Maggie Mae is living proof - so I don't have to fear a blood clotting disorder or other issues that some mamas of stillborn babies have to tackle. I'm thankful that my body was up to the task of carrying and delivering Wendell, that it was not due to any known mechanical error on my body's side that we lost him. That gives me faith in hoping for another baby.

But I'm sure the truth is that I will have fears whenever my next pregnancy happens. I trust it will be when my body is ready, whenever that is. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later. There is still an ache in me to carry a child, to feel kicks inside me, to give birth in a home environment with my husband and midwife cheering me on, to nurse my little one, to be sleep deprived and gobsmacked in love with a tiny new creature that I created with Josh. I know fear will come with pregnancy, but doesn't it always, anyways? What I'm hoping for and praying for is to not be paralyzed with it -- and to approach that new experience, when it comes, with open hands.

When I carried Wendell in my body, I was learning the art of being present. I have such a slippery, meager grasp on that art but it began to grow as Wendell grew inside me. He was my sidekick in that venture, as my most frequent practice time was when I would finally settle into bed after a long day on my feet, with Josh sleeping soundly beside me. Without fail, the moment my body came to rest, Wendell would begin to kick my belly. I'd sit and breathe. Sometimes silent, sometimes repeating a mantra of love and gratitude and peace.

More of that, a deeper understanding of serenity and being present in the moment, is all I can hope for in my next pregnancy. I do pray I will get to meet my next child while he or she is alive and healthy. I hope for longer than just seven short months in utero. I hope I get to bring my next baby home with me. But even if seven months in utero that is all I get, even if I get less than that, I want to rejoice over that time and live it fully and love my baby even if I only get to do so from outside my body. I read a beautiful story of a woman who lost multiple babies through miscarriage and stillbirth. Rather than shutting down during her subsequent pregnancies, clamming up with fear and hoping to squash her feelings so she wouldn't feel attached to her baby, she dove in head first to making each pregnancy a beautiful time with her baby. She embraced the time she had, knowing that although she had no guarantee that she'd get to bring her baby home, at least she'd have this time with it to cherish and make the most of.

That's what I want -- to love my next baby with all I've got, just like I loved Wendell. With my whole heart and without reservations. I want to walk in gratitude rather than fear. To love hard and strong without regret, because any baby I bear is my child to love regardless of how long or short his or her days may be numbered.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I had dreams of a deliciously fat baby boy, with ponderous drooping cheeks and legs like the Michelin man. Maggie had the chunkiest cheeks even in her skinny-old-man preemie days; they were gloriously paunchy and sagged beneath her gigantic luminous eyes that are so like her dad's. I dreamed that Wendell would have those same cheeks, but that he'd be chunkier at birth than his big sister.

Instead his body was small and floppy, already broken by the time he exited the womb. He was so unsubstantial, so fallen apart, and the brokenness of his body didn't make me love him any less but it did break me. Because that wasn't my dream, to hold the broken, still, silent body of my firstborn son. I hated that his tiny body never had a chance to even take one single breath out in this big beautiful terrifying wonderful world.

Last night I unearthed a treasure trove of photos and videos from Maggie's infancy. As I scrolled through them, I couldn't help hollering out to Josh to come look at just one more, because my baby girl was so sweet and lovely and crinkly and bug-eyed and perfect. And as she grew up, six months then nine months then a year, the short video clips showed her emerging personality, this beam of sunshine and joy even at that tiny age.

And I had such joy remembering that little Maggie baby, but also such devastation -- because I wanted all that with Wendell, too. I wanted his first episode of crazy baby sleep with eyes rolled back in his head and a fluttery half-smile, his first attempts at crawling, his first time recoiling at the touch of grass on his tender hands. I wanted all that with him, just like I had had it with Maggie. I wanted him to be my baby through all the stages of babyhood, to get to bear witness to the miracle of his discovery of life and love and sunshine and grass and sky.

But he only got to be my baby in utero. He won't ever be older than 28 weeks 6 days gestation. He won't ever see the sky or sun or his mama's face. And as much as I do have peace, and I still have joy, and I am not broken or despairing, and I still have hope, and I am glad I got those seven months with him growing inside me -- even with all that being true, it will never be an okay thing that I don't get to have Wendell as my baby for the rest of my life.