Tag Archives: beginnings

The Club No One Wants to Join

When you lose a child you become part of a club that no one ever wants to join. In fact, most people would prefer to ignore it. Because recognizing it makes you realize that — in a blink — you, too, could become an unwilling member. Whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, accident or illness, your child’s death is an initiation. An initiation that lasts a lifetime — when every single life’s occasion, every milestone, is clouded by your loss. And the membership fees? They can devastate you — in every meaning of the word.

Some days, this club — that has so many members — is a lonely one.

Some days, though, you realize there are far too many people in it. And that realization, in and of itself, can be too much to bear.

While I’m only an 18-month member of this club myself, I do know that there is hope. And there are some things to help you make it through your initiation:

  • Know that there is no membership handbook. When you are a member of this club, you must find your own way to survive the grief. I will gladly help you by talking to you, talking with you, listening to you or just staying on the phone with you while you cry — or while you just try to keep breathing. I will offer support in anyway I possibly can. I will tell you what worked for me — because maybe it will help you, too. But there is no one way to get through this. And however you need to survive this is what you need to do.
  • Know you are not alone. While it’s a club that no one wants to be a part of — a club that I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to have to join — it sure helps knowing that there are others there who have gone through it, who have survived it.
  • Embrace the sadness and all the other emotions, too. It is because you have loved that you feel loss. Sadness and grief are another part of the continuum that is love. And love is sometimes the only thing that will carry you through.
  • Be prepared to be surprised. Some days you’ll think you’re doing great — you may go for days at a time without crying or really feeling your loss. But then, it will hit you. Like a wave. Out of nowhere. On the flip side, be prepared to be surprised by the light and laughter and happiness that you can feel — even within your grief. Some days, the smiles and laughs of another child will knock you down with grief. Some days, though (and these are my favorite), those smiles and laughs will bring you so much happiness. Because every child’s laugh contains your child’s laugh — if you really listen. Yes, I hear Penelope Joy’s laughter in the laughter of other children. And it brings me such peace.
  • Realize one thing: you don’t have to be strong. One of the things people will tell you when they hear your sad news is to “stay strong.” These people mean well. And they want to say something to help because they love you. But, if there’s one time in your life that you don’t have to stay strong, it is when someone you love dies. So, break down. Scream. Yell at God — if you believe in God. Cry. Hide under your covers. Immerse yourself in the fantasy world of books and movies. Do whatever you have to do to survive this. Even if it makes you feel weak.
  • Take it day by day. Every day will be different. Some will be sad. Some will be happy (and that’s OK!). Some will be a mixture of sad and happy — and everything in between. Whatever you’re feeling in every moment is right. Because feelings can’t really be wrong.
  • Find a way to honor your child. I help Penelope Joy live on through my writing. I continue to tell her story. And I talk about her — because her life matters. I will never, ever be afraid to talk about her — even if doing so makes other people uncomfortable. Penelope Joy is — not was — my daughter. And she forever will be. We also have a beautiful rose bush in our front yard (a Penelope rose bush, in fact) that reminds me of her every day. I want Dottie Lou — and any other future children — to know Penelope’s story. Because her story is theirs just as it is mine. We also celebrate her birthday with cupcakes at the beach — and we honor her angelversary. But other people have found ways to honor the children who’ve died: trees planted in their memory, garden stones, charitable organizations — you name it. Just find something meaningful to you.
  • Know that this will forever change you. Losing a child — however it happens — changes your life forever. You will never “get better.” The pain will dull, but the scars will last a lifetime. But, the thing about scars? They show that you are a survivor — that something has touched you deeply and left a mark forever. Just like your child and your love for your child.

While you never wanted to be part of this club, you are here now. It is part of your story. And I believe that even beauty comes from loss. From Penelope Joy’s death, so much goodness has happened — not only in my world, but the world at large. It would be very, very easy to wake up every day and choose the darkness, the sadness — and, in a way, I’d have every right to do so. Instead, I choose the light. (To be honest, some days it’s a very conscious effort to choose the light.) Because, truly, without Penelope Joy’s life — and her death — we wouldn’t have our Dottie Lou. It’s very hard to live in the darkness and sadness when I can, instead, live in the lightness of Penelope Joy and all of the beauty she brought into our lives.

But, before I could embrace the beauty, I had to get through the ugliness. I had to live the grief in order to live the light. So, take your time. Grieve. Live what has happened to you. The beauty will come — maybe when you least expect it.

Let me leave you with a quote that helped me through many days:

Max Lucado Quote

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2014 — Highlights (and Photos) from my Year

I’ve seen a lot of people wishing to wash 2014 away from their memory, and it makes me sad. Was 2014 the best year of my life? Yeah, probably not. I mean, we celebrated Penelope Joy’s birthday — the first of many, many more without her. We also marked her one-year angelversary. Oh, yeah, and my dad died.

But I could never tell you that 2014 was an empty year. Or a year I wish to wash from my memory bank. There is something to be gained every year — and something to be celebrated. And, even if it wasn’t a great year when compared to some of the other years of my life, it deserves its space in my history book. And it deserves to have its tale told.

January

  • After many months, Mr. B finally convinced me that I wasn’t meant to be an apartment gal for the rest of my life
  • I finally found my running legs after Penelope Joy’s birth — and death — surprised by how much emotional recovery I had to do before running felt “right” again

    A Saturday run

    Scenes from my chilly Saturday morning run.

February

  • We purchased our first house

    Our first picture of our first home

    Our first picture of our first home

  • I celebrated my 33rd birthday

March

  • We moved into our house and immediately began turning it into our home
  • I attended some social media training in San Diego for work
Checking out the sights during a break from business.

Checking out the sights during a break from business.

April

photo with Piper

Our first photo with Piper.

May

  • Rosebud and I traveled to Indianapolis to see our friends, The Secret Sisters, perform

    The Secret Sisters, once again, wow The Rosebud Sisters.

    The Secret Sisters, once again, wow The Rosebud Sisters.

  • I ran the Fifth Third River Bank Run 5k for the Alzheimer’s Association of West Michigan

    My traditional post-race selfie.

    My traditional post-race selfie.

  • We found out that Sprout was on her way
  • A downed power line gave us quite the scare
An exciting way to welcome spring at our new home.

An exciting way to welcome spring at our new home.

June

  • We took a long weekend getaway to “The Island” with T and W and our crazy dogs
On our way to The Island.

On our way to The Island.

July

  • We took Piper up north to run (and run and run) around the farm
A stop-light family photo

A stop-light family photo

August

  • Piper passed her Canine Good Citizenship Test
Our Canine Good Citizen — silly as ever!

Our Canine Good Citizen — silly as ever!

September

  • Gary’s Gang raised thousands of dollars for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s

    Gary's Gang at the Walk to End Alzheimer's

    Gary’s Gang at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s

  • We celebrated Penelope Joy’s birthday with cupcakes and hugs on the beach

    Cupcakes for our precious Penelope Joy's 1st birthday.

    Cupcakes for our precious Penelope Joy’s 1st birthday.

  • We celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary by trying out a new restaurant we both agreed wouldn’t make our list of regular dining establishments

October

  • We marked the anniversary of Penelope Joy’s death
  • We found out that our Sprout is a girl and, at the same time, heard the high-risk pregnancy doctor say “your baby is healthy, and we don’t want to see you anymore”

    Sprout's a girl!

    Sprout’s a girl!

  • We said good-bye to my dad
Hugs, smiles and laughter were always a constant with Dad.

Hugs, smiles and laughter were always a constant with Dad.

November

  • We got a very positive report from Sprout’s echocardiogram and learned that her heart looked, as far as the scans could reveal, “perfectly healthy”
  • We joined my mom and lots of loud, wonderful family for Thanksgiving up north
Nothing like family and laughter on Thanksgiving.

Nothing like family and laughter on Thanksgiving.

December

  • We celebrated our first Christmas in our new home

    Christmas at Casa B

    Christmas at Casa B

  • We said good-bye to 2014 and hello to 2015 with “Lilo & Stitch,” a slice of cheesecake and a smooch

By no means is this list exhaustive. In fact, I know of many wonderful things I left off the list. But to include everything that happened in a year? It’s a list that would run long. Too long. Know this, though: the most important thing that happened this year was that we continued to live our love story. And we continued to learn about love and its many, many forms.

2014 was a transformative year for me personally. There was loss and love. Fear and hope. Dark and light. And through it all, I changed. I continue to change. My life continues to transform as I continue to live it and take it all in — the good and the bad. And I look forward to that continued transformation and growth in the new year.

As I thought back on my year and that word, “transformative,” I wondered how other people might describe their year. So, I asked. Friends and family from various social media platforms — and countries all over the world — shared with me the one word they would use to describe their year. It’s really interesting to look at that collection of words and how similar and how different they are from each other. See what I mean?

2014 Word Cloud

It’s fun to look back at 2014 — appreciating that while it may not have been a perfect year, there was good that came with it, too. With the dark, there is light. With the fear, there is hope.

No one knows yet what 2015 will hold. But I do know that it will be a very, very special year, indeed. We’re starting our year off with our continued countdown to Sprout. Due Feb. 3, Baby Girl Baker is already making an impact on our daily lives. And I simply cannot wait to hold her for the first time and touch her sweet toes.

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A Sprout Scare and a New Freckle

Yesterday morning I woke up with a bloody nose. Well, I didn’t so much “wake up” as Braxton Hicks came calling and woke me up. As I got to the bathroom, I realized my nose wasn’t the only thing that was a little bloody.

At nearly 35 weeks pregnant, a little blood in the toilet can be nothing — or it can be everything. Mr. B assured me I wasn’t overreacting and reassured me that my want need to call the doctor was perfectly acceptable. Of course, the office wasn’t open, so I had to call the after-hours nurse, who then had to page the on-call doctor, who then had to finish what she was working on before she could call me.

Anyone who says half an hour is a short amount of time never had to wait and worry for a doctor to call her back.

As I sat on the edge of the bed crying anxious, scared tears, Mr. B rubbed my back. Usually I’m the only one who worries — Mr. B is my rock and the one who talks sense into me when my worrying goes a little too far. But I could tell he was a little concerned, too.

After all, we’ve had our fair share of disappointment, fear and sadness when it comes to our experience with pregnancy. And we know very well what it’s like to lose the one thing we wanted more than anything else.

After I had calmed down a bit, we went about our business — brushing our teeth, packing our lunches, tending to the critters. When the phone finally rang, I jumped on it.

The doctor listened to what was going on and kindly reassured me that everything was going to be OK.

Was the baby moving? A little.

Was there a lot of blood? Not really.

Was I having any cramping? No.

It’s most likely the very early beginnings of cervical softening, she said. But, don’t worry, she continued, it will most likely go on for a couple of weeks. Because that’s just how it works.

She reminded me to keep an eye on myself, how I’m feeling and how Sprout is acting. She also reminded me that it’s OK to worry a little — after all, she knows our story. She knows Penelope Joy. The key, always for me, is trying not to worry too much. Because that’s often where my mind goes. But I know it doesn’t do Sprout any good if I’m worried or stressed out too bad.

Now that I’m getting a few more pokes and prods from Sprout this afternoon and evening, I’m starting to relax back into this pregnancy a little bit after yesterday’s jarring wake-up call. Though, the scare of seeing that blood has definitely left its mark.

Instead, I continue to keep my focus on some of the amazing things this pregnancy brings with it — besides, of course, the obvious Baby Sprout we get to meet at the end:

  • Today, I cannot stop laughing at my new outie belly button — and the hidden freckle I found inside! I can’t believe I’ve lived nearly 34 years on this planet and didn’t realize I had a freckle inside my belly button.
  • My body’s doing some pretty crazy stuff these days. Some of it is fantastic. And some of it … well … maybe isn’t so fantastic. But I laugh several times a day at what’s going on inside — and outside — of myself. Mr. B laughs a lot these days, too. Mostly at me.
  • Mr. B and I are enjoying getting ready to bring our baby home with us — something that is truly magical to experience. Sprout’s nursery is all set, and we feel as ready as we could ever be to bring her home. It’s scary. And life-altering. And unchartered territory. But it is our adventure to live. And we cannot wait. (Can it actually be less than five weeks until she joins us?) 
  • Mr. B and I talk a lot lately about getting to actually be parents. Yes, we are Penelope Joy’s parents — we always will be — and Sprout is not our first child. And we learned more from Penelope Joy about what it means to be Mom and to be Dad than we ever could have imagined. But this experience is going to be so, so different. Exciting and scary in a whole new way! I’m just so looking forward to watching Mr. B be the dad he deserves to get to be. (He’s gonna be so great at it, you guys!)
  • Last, but not least, I’ve actually been able to get Mr. B in front of the camera for some professional photos a few times in our relationship. And getting maternity pictures for Sprout was so much fun. I love just being with him as a photographer tags along. And I love how much our love shows.
Collage of maternity photos

I love our love.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of the “life” that’s happened in the last year that makes this blog maybe not so fun all the time. And thanks for hanging in there even though I’ve not been regularly writing. I’ll try to do better — promise. But, mostly, that’ll depend on Sprout.

Until next time, my friends, the countdown continues …

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Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Since announcing Sprout’s existence, we’ve received such an amazing outpouring of support and prayers. People have reached out to us from around the world congratulating us, wishing us the best and telling us they’re keeping us all in their prayers. That’s the wonderful thing about social media — thousands of people got to know Penelope Joy and, by default, us. So we have a truly international support system. All thanks to one very special little girl.

I promised that I’d be an open book with Penelope Joy — sharing both the good times and the bad. Holding nothing back. Being real. And I was. It helped me cope — having a place to go to share all of my overjoyed moments of mommy pride as well as the moments of sincere despair.

With Sprout, though, I’m tempted to hold a little bit back. To keep a little bit of this baby just for us. Because, as I’ve said before, Penelope Joy didn’t just belong to us — she belonged to everyone. Her story was everyone’s story. And I want to selfishly keep Sprout’s story — at least some parts — just for Mr. B and me. And probably just for a while.

But, before I decide what I want to share — and what I don’t — I feel the need to publicly answer some of the questions I’ve been asked since announcing this pregnancy:

  • Was this baby planned? Yes. Sprout was planned. We were trying to get pregnant. Not exactly tracking everything to the minute. But we purposely discontinued birth control and made an effort to make an effort. Sprout was planned. Sprout is planned. And soverymuch wanted.
  • But, isn’t it too soon? For us? No. For you? Maybe it would have been. But it is the right time for our family. Penelope Joy expanded our capacity for love — and she grew our world 1,000,000-fold. Having a second baby can only make our world a better place. And that is really as much as I should need to say on that.
  • Well, you must be so scared. Obviously, Mr. B and I are scared. We’re nervous. We were scared and nervous when I was pregnant with Penelope Joy — and we had no idea how bad it could be. This time around, we know exactly how bad it could be. But, because we’ve experienced the worst, our fear feels different. Because, what’s the worst that could happen? We’ve been there. We’ve lived it. Could it happen again? Yes. Of course. But we also know that we cannot live in that fear. Because living in it would change nothing. The only thing that could change anything is loving each other hard — and loving Sprout harder.
  • Have you been tested to make sure it won’t happen again? This question … this question. As I’m writing this, I’m shaking my head. But, I will answer it. No. We were not tested to make sure “it” won’t happen again. But Penelope Joy was tested before she died. And, you know what? According to the geneticist, Penelope Joy tested negative for any genetic abnormalities. Her condition? A complete and total fluke. A chance mutation that could just have easily happened to any other kiddo. But, for some reason it happened to her. Does this make me feel any better? Absolutely not. When I first got the news, it made me angrier, sadder. When I asked the geneticist if Mr. B and I should be tested before having other children, she said it would be a waste of our money. Penelope Joy was negative, as we would be.
  • Is everything OK with the baby? I’m happy to report that, as of right now, everything is OK with Sprout. We heard Sprout’s heartbeat last Monday. It was a very reassuring visit to the doctor’s office. Because of what happened to Penelope Joy, we will be having extra tests, ultrasounds and consultations with Sprout. Thursday is the first of many such appointments. We’re both anxious and eager.

I look forward to writing about Sprout as this pregnancy continues. There are still some things I’ll share. Some things I’ll write about right away, and some things will wait. And, yes, some things will be just for Mr. B and me.

In the meantime, thank you for following along. And thank you for your continued support and prayers. We appreciate them. We feel them. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for loving us through everything.

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Paw Prints on our Hearts — and our Hardwood Floors

Mr. B and I have, obviously, had a very tumultuous year. Nothing pulls the rug out from under you like losing your child. And since then, also obviously, our hearts have been slowly healing — bit by bit. But there has always been a dark cloud hanging over any of our happiness. Because there was always something missing. There will always be something missing.

A couple weeks ago, we visited an animal rescue shelter. Knowing we had a lot of love to share — and so eager to give a home to a dog who needed one. We visited with a couple of dogs — neither really seemed “right.” But as soon as the staff member brought “Speckles” out to meet us, we started falling in love. We spent a little bit of time with her at the shelter. And as we were driving home, we both said we wanted to adopt her. That night we filled out the online application and anxiously waited to hear from them that our application had been accepted.

While we hadn’t yet heard from them by Friday evening, we already were making plans to visit “Speckles” again on Saturday. Even just for a few minutes. Even though we didn’t know for sure if we would get to be her family. We just wanted to see her again. Spending time with her made us happy — it made things feel … lighter.

 When we walked in Saturday and they said “Oh! You’re here to take Speckles home!” we were, admittedly, surprised — and a little unprepared. But we were ecstatic. First step, though, was to change her name: Piper Mae.

photo with Piper

Our first photo with Piper, courtesy Pound Buddies.

Like all changes, it has taken some adjustments — for Piper and for Mr. B and me. But, I can tell already that the gray cloud of grief is starting to lift. Piper is slowly starting to help us heal from the loss of Penelope Joy — and her smiley face and wagging tail (boy does it wag!) brings us such joy when we walk in the door after work. No longer are we falling in love with her — we love her. Even Moe Cat and Annie Cat are starting to come around!

Cats and dog

Every day they get a little closer to each other.

Piper is helping to make our new house a home — we thought we were going to give a dog a home, but she turned out to give us a home. We are so honored to be her family and so looking forward to getting to know her even better.

In a couple of weeks, we’re going to start obedience training with her — we’ve actually already had one private session to get some tips and tricks for leash training. I am so looking forward to enjoying a happy, playful spring/summer outdoors, taking walks and playing in the backyard!

collage of Piper pics

Just a few snapshots from our first couple of weeks with Piper.

And, yes, if you follow me on Instagram, you probably should be prepared to be inundated with photos of Piper.

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Home is Where Your Heart Is

I’ve not written in a while about what’s going on in my life. It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. Because I do. It’s just that, well, we’ve been busy.

We bought a house!

We bought a house!

Mr. B and I didn’t set out to house hunt. Rather, we saw a house we liked and decided to take a look at it. And, while we were in the neighborhood, we figured we’d check out a couple of other houses. No sense wasting our real estate agent’s time. After a very crazy night of looking at four or five houses, we fell in love with this house — the one we’d both ranked as our least favorite, based on the pictures and Zillow description. But once we set foot in the house, we knew it was our home.

I was headed out of town for business, so Mr. B had to do all of the offer-making dirty work while I was gone. And, by the time I came home, we had a signed offer — and a long to-do list. Visits. Inspections. Surveys. Appointments.

I’m told the process went really quickly, but the next four weeks seemed to drag on and on. Soon, though, we were signing on the dotted line (times 1,000), and the house was ours.

It’s been a very strange experience. We weren’t in our apartment before this very long — we’d just moved in October, the weekend before Penelope died. So, it never really felt like home, and it was full of sad memories. It was a place of limbo, I think we both knew that. I don’t think either of us knew what was next. I certainly don’t think we planned to buy a house.

In fact, I’d never wanted a house. Before Mr. B — well, before Penelope, really — I would have been happy being a renter for the rest of my life. Home ownership never really appealed to me. I didn’t want the mess or fuss or stress that came with it. Mr. B, on the other hand, wanted a house — projects (especially) included.

And, had we never had a tiny taste — a fleeting glimmer, really — of having a family, Mr. B never would have even gotten me slightly interested in a home. I would have come to home ownership kicking and screaming.

But then, I got pregnant. And I wanted to have a home where my kids could grow and make memories. I wanted a “home” that was ours. Like I had, when I was growing up (we never moved when I was a kid, and my parents still live in that house).

After Penelope died, that became even more important to me.

I wanted a place that would be ours. Where sad memories could live in the past, assigned forever to that temporary home, and we could carry happy memories in our hearts.

And, so, a month later, Mr. B and I are still settling into our house — still not quite believing it’s really ours. It’s bittersweet, yes. Because Penelope Joy isn’t here with us. But, also, it’s refreshing to have a blank slate. Where we can make our home what we want; where we can create new memories — always carrying our darling daughter in our hearts.

The most important decorations in our house — and the first thing we did before we even unpacked.

The most important decorations in our house — and the first thing we did before we even unpacked.

 

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Finding My Running Legs — Again

Since I started running, that has always been a safe place. It was where I went to process what was going on in my life. It was where I went when I needed “me” time. It was where I celebrated victories and mourned losses.

And after Penelope died, I was certain running would help me heal. And, once I got the A-OK from the doctor, I was so excited to get back out on the trail.

But, then something happened. I got back out there. And it was different. It didn’t feel like my safe place anymore; it wasn’t comforting to get back into my old routine. Rather, it was emotionally painful — almost to the point of being physically painful.

I periodically went for walks, and I tentatively returned to the gym. At the gym, the same thing happened. It just wasn’t the same. And no amount of T2.5 “counseling” time could fix it.

So, I turned away from it. I learned long ago that if something wasn’t good for my soul, there was no way I could make it good for my body or my mind. 

So, I took some more time off. Some more frustrated time off. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a hard time returning to my routine. But then, in the middle of writing Penelope’s story, it dawned on me. 

Those things? The gym. My favorite running path.  They were exactly as I had left them when the doctor told me I needed to back off the running and weight lifting. But me? I was different. Very, very different. 

And I needed something different — healing in a different way — from the gym and from running. But I wasn’t ready for it yet.

You see, the last time I’d done all of those things? I was carrying Penelope. And the grief was too fresh, too raw to be able to fully put myself back into it.

Then, I started writing a book. A book about Penelope Joy and all of the amazing things she taught me — taught all of us — in her short 38 days. And it was cathartic.

And, slowly, as I wrote the words and re-read them over and over, my healing truly began. Then, I returned to the gym to hit the treadmill for some short run/walks, and I started lifting (lightly) weights again.

And one cold, cold Saturday morning I  bundled up and strapped on my running spikes. And I went for a cold run.

A Saturday run

Scenes from my chilly Saturday morning run.

I had the trail pretty much to myself that day — it was that cold. And step after step, I found my running legs. I wasn’t as fast as I once was. And there were a lot more walking breaks that I’d have liked. But I was out there. And it felt so good.

As the “Polar Vortex” hit, I was sent back indoors for my workouts. I don’t enjoy the treadmill — never have — but it was better than nothing, and the routine was nice.

Then, January Thaw came for a visit. And it got a bit warmer. Which meant I could head back outside. So, yesterday, joined by a friend, I hit the trail again.

I felt every single muscle as they compensated for the uneven, icy trail. But between chatting and enjoying our time outside, we ended up getting in just over 7.5 miles. It was definitely a run/walk — I still have a long way to go — but it was just what my body needed, just what my soul needed.

And, so, I’m starting to feel that old passion return. Even Mr. B sees it — commenting on the dopey grin I had on my face for most of the day after my run yesterday. My excitement was clearly showing.

Running is starting, once again, to feel like a safe place for me. It is not an unchanged place; it’s different now. I am different now. I have different goals as a runner than I used to have — just as I have different goals for myself, my life.

But, for now, I’m just going to enjoy being back out there, taking it step by step.

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