Tag Archives: hope

When in Doubt, Choose Love

The other day someone posted a writing prompt on a page that I follow. It was this:

If you could give your middle school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

At first I scrolled past and then moved on with my business. But, then I started thinking about it: what would I tell my middle school self? What would help younger me survive what were some of the worst years of my life? The very worst of which was eighth grade — you couldn’t pay me enough to redo eighth grade.

So, I thought about it for a while. A few things flittered around in my mind — then flittered back out within seconds. But then there was something — one single phrase — that I think would have made all the difference. That phrase?

Choose Love

Love — capital “L.” The good, big Love that is so very needed in this world. The kind of Love every awkward, changing, challenging teen needs to hear, feel, practice and experience.

So, younger me, I leave you this:

Dearest Kimi,

You don’t know me — but you will. You will be me, and I will be you. Everything you do and everything you see will become part of me. Your present is my past; my present is your future.

I will owe so much to you and the choices you make today and tomorrow and many tomorrows after that. So, let me offer you this one piece of advice: always, always choose love. 

When kids in your class start picking on a girl who is, for once, not you, do not join in. Stand up for her; stand by her side; hold her hand — choose love.

When your little sister is driving you crazy and you want to pull out her hair and scream at her, sit down and read a book and play make-believe with her. Instead of fighting, choose love.

When your mom is balancing being a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend and a daughter, be patient with her and go easy on her. Choose love.

When the kids in your class are giving your teacher a hard time, making her job more difficult than it should be, speak up. Choose love.

And this one, dear Kimi, this one is the most important of all: when those other kids are saying horrible things about you (behind your back and to your face) so often and so matter-of-factly that you start to believe them, do not give up. Please, oh, please, realize how special you are and how much this world needs you. Do not choose to hate yourself. Instead, my darling, choose love.

This world can be unkind at times. Trust me, I know — you will live through some things so scary and sad that it will be tough to choose love. But more times than not, your life will be full of so much deep, life-changing awesomeness that you will know you were right: when given the option, my dear, love is always the right choice.

Oh, here’s a little piece of bonus advice: the more love you send out into the world, the more love you will receive. I promise. 

I also promise that you will make it through these years and your life will be big and bright and beautiful. So, hunker down, keep your head up and choose love. 

With so much love and admiration,

Also Kimi

Choose Love

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The First Step is Always the Hardest

It’s been a while, little blog of mine. Life with an infant is … well … busy. And exhausting. It’s also thrilling. And beautiful. And educational. And exhausting. Oh, wait, I think I mentioned that one before.

Sleeping baby

(For all you people wondering, no, Dottie is not sleeping through the night yet. In fact, she quite enjoys her middle-of-the-night time where she gets Mom all to herself. I’m OK with it — for now — because the snuggles will only last so long.)

But, Mr. B and I are settling into a lovely routine. A lovely, family-oriented, we’re-getting-older routine. For the most part, we’re as happy hanging out on the floor or on the front lawn with Dottie Lou and Piper as we are going out in public (where it’s so loud!).

Family Time

Mr. B and I did manage to steal a few minutes for breakfast together without Dottie Lou this morning, and it was quite lovely to reconnect over bacon, coffee and kitschy décor.

We’re also each managing to settle into our own routines — with work, volunteering and even squeezing in a little “for me” time along the way. Mr. B fills his free time with fly fishing and getting out for a run now and again. I’m having a little bit of a harder time finding time for me where I’m not worried about Dottie or work or family things. And I still struggle with balancing all of the demands in my life: work, family, friends, volunteering, leisure. It’s a daily struggle. But the balance is getting easier.

In fact, I’ve recently started running again as part of my “me” time. Though, my running is more like really fast walking with some bursts of “speed” for a few minutes at a time. And, yes, sometimes I look at where I’ve been and how much endurance I’ve lost. (My body feels fine while running — and even after — but I can tell my cardio’s got a long way to go.)

I haven’t run-run in a long time. At least nothing regular. I ran and worked out through most of my pregnancy with Penelope Joy — until the doctors told me to take it easy. And then she died. And I was sad. Really sad. And it was winter. And my grief did a really good job of convincing my body that I wasn’t ready to run — “just not yet.” And so, I took a lot of months off. To just be sad and miss my baby girl. Because I was broken, and that’s what I needed to do in that time.

And then, I started running again that following spring. Slowly. Surely. Until May, when I found out I was pregnant with Dottie Lou. And after everything we went through with Penelope Joy, I was terrified of running. And, so, I stopped pretty much in my tracks. No running while I was pregnant with Dottie Lou. Just walking. Slowly. And a little stretching now and again.

(Because no matter what the doctors or the websites or the experts say, a part of me will probably always blame myself for what happened to her — even though that’s most likely the furthest thing from the truth. And I was so very determined not to jostle or jiggle or bounce or startle Dottie Lou unnecessarily while she was still inside of me.)

But, it’s time now. It’s time to get back on my feet and rediscover the love I once had for running. And I did — boy, did I love it. In the rain. In the snow. In the sun. In the shade. No matter what, it brought a smile to my face. I think it’s because it was all about me and the open trail.

I’ve been testing the water with a few run/walks lately. And it’s hard. It’s hard to put one foot in front of the other for a 14-minute mile when I know it was just a couple of years ago that I was running a 6:30 mile (I mean, just once, but still …). But I can feel it coming back — that joy that running brought into my life. And the completeness it made me feel.

This time I’m determined not to get faster and faster (and thinner and thinner). Rather, I want to run for the pure joy of it. Running, like writing, is my outlet and my way to process so many things going on in my life. And, boy, is there a lot to process these days!

(On that note, as I was running this morning, my desire to write started coming back. So, hopefully — if Dottie cooperates — you’ll see me back here once a week or so.)

I can’t promise the process of finding my running legs again won’t frustrate me, and I am going to try to look forward instead of looking backward. And I’m going to try so hard to remember that there’s only one way to run, and that’s one foot in front of the other. Even though that first step is the hardest … every single time.

The first step truly is the hardest.

The first step truly is the hardest.

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A Mother’s Day Sandwich

It’s Wednesday. And we’re sandwiched right in between two special days: International Bereaved Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day. International Bereaved Mother’s Day was started in 2010 and now falls on the first Sunday in May. Mother’s Day, as you (hopefully) know, falls on the second Sunday of May. So … this is the way it will always be — a sandwich week. And, so far this year, it’s been a pretty emotional one. I’ve been feeling the loss of Penelope Joy so much lately. But, at the same time, have been finding so much joy in Dottie Lou. Every time I think I couldn’t love her more or be more in awe of her, I wake up and it’s a new day and there’s a fresh stock of brand-new love and admiration for her.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that this week is sandwiched between two days that are somewhat definitive for me. I’m grieving our loss of Penelope Joy — I’ll always be grieving it. But I’m celebrating — both her life and Dottie Lou’s. And I celebrate both of them for making me a mother — and for teaching me so much about life and what really, truly matters.

Penelope Joy made me a mother.

Penelope Joy made me a mother.

As Dottie Lou continues to hit milestones (she’s rolling over!!) and celebrate special days, I’m reminded of the milestones and celebrations we’ll never get to celebrate with Penelope Joy. While there’s a fleeting moment of sadness (OK, some days it may stick around a little longer than others), I try so hard not to live in the sadness of missed milestones and, instead, live in today’s celebrations. Because to focus on the sadness of the “what ifs” and the “why nots” is to completely miss the gift we have in Dottie Lou.

Dottie Lou teaches me how  to be a better mother — and a better person.

Dottie Lou teaches me how to be a better mother — and a better person.

I’ve said it a dozen times before — had Penelope Joy not lived and died, we would not have Dottie Lou. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss Penelope Joy. Because I do, and my heart hurts every time I think about her. It just means that I can’t wish her back and this is our story. And Dottie Lou is here.

So, Mr. B and I celebrate every milestone and rejoice with every new expression Dottie Lou gives us — even her pout pout face. And I share way too many photos. And I talk about Dottie Lou way too much.

Yes, I’ll always be sandwiched between grieving and rejoicing. But I can choose how I live and which one of those I allow to take root and grow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk of sandwiches has me hungry.

While we'll never have a complete family photo with both of our girls, we will always carry them both in our hearts. Always and forever.

While we’ll never have a complete family photo with both of our girls, we will always carry them both in our hearts. Always and forever.

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Running for the Heart of It

Next weekend I’m going to run my first race since Dottie Lou was born. Well, my first race since I found out I was pregnant with her. If I were being honest, I’d also tell you that it’s also the first real run since finding out I was pregnant.

Actually, this time last year is when I ran for the last time — this very same race: the Fifth Third River Bank Run 5k. And it was just a couple weeks before that faint pink line appeared.

ALZ StarsLast year I ran to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s Disease in honor of my dad who, at that time, was just beginning to slip into the stage of the disease that would take his life.

You see, running makes me feel good about myself physically and mentally. Running for a cause that’s as near and dear to my heart? Well, that’s just good for my soul.

This year I am — once again — running for a cause that’s important to me: Mended Little Hearts of West Michigan. This year, I’m running for Penelope Joy. And I’m running for the 1 in 110 babies born with a congenital heart defect (CHD).

Penelope Joy Scar

Penelope Joy

If you’ve been following my blog for very long, you know that Penelope Joy is our oldest daughter who was born in 2013 with a number of serious birth defects — among them, several heart defects, including a hypoplastic left ventricle. She had her first open heart surgery when she was four days old. And she lived for a mere 38 days.

We had learned about her special heart at a 20(ish)-week ultrasound when we were given the news that would forever change our story. I won’t talk too much about that part of our journey — because those stories have been told before. What I do want to talk about is how important Mended Little Hearts became to me as I faced something no mother should ever have to face: the death of her child. At the time, her only child — the one who made her a mother in the first place.

mlh logoMended Little Hearts is a national group with regional chapters made up of people — in West Michigan’s case, mostly women — who offer support, encouragement and education to families as they face the realities of CHDs. I first learned about them through a pamphlet I picked up at the heart surgeon’s office during one of our prenatal visits. (Gosh — who ever thinks they’ll have to visit a heart surgeon for a prenatal visit?!)

After I reached out to them, it was like some sort of balloon popped — one of those really cool, fancy balloons filled with all sorts of beautiful confetti. Except this balloon? It was full of amazing women with beautiful souls who reached out to Mr. B and me in our most desperate time of need. We were immediately surrounded by love and support and prayers. In addition to information and messages of love on social media, the women brought us food to the hospital — and they ate with us. They didn’t try to make us feel better — because when your child is dying, there is no “better.” But, by being there for us — and somewhat understanding, or at least appreciating, what we were going through — they helped us immensely.

Since Penelope Joy died, they have served as a support group for me in a way. While it can be difficult to attend some Mended Little Hearts events — because “why couldn’t my Penelope been one of those kiddos running around, beating all odds” — it’s so special to be part of a group where I get to be surrounded by all those little superheroes who are stronger than their years. And don’t even get me started on their parents and other family members who’ve been through … well … you know … and back.

The group offers so much more than support and yummy food — though, to a person staring down the line at a hospital cafeteria, that might be the most important thing! Mended Little Hearts also provides a number of helpful resources and services by:

  • Providing peer-to-peer support to parents and caregivers of children with congenital heart defects
  • Providing peer-to-peer support for children and adults with congenital heart defects
  • Offering educational and health resources related to congenital heart defects
  • Raising awareness in the community about congenital heart disease to help others understand the disease and increase research funding
  • Providing support to expecting families through our Prenatal Information Pack distribution program
  • Providing support to families through our care bag distribution program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
  • Advocating on issues that help improve the lives of those living with congenital heart defects

By choosing to use my (very slow) miles to raise money and awareness for Mended Little Hearts, I hope I can make even a tiny sliver of the difference for someone that this organization made in my life.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mended Little Hearts and the services and support the organization provides, please visit the website. And, if you’d like to support me and MLH-WM as I run my first race since Dottie Lou was born, you can make a donation here — please don’t forget to select my name (Kimi) from the dropdown menu. (Special shout out to all of those who have already supported me in this run — financially and spiritually!)

And, if you’re so moved, please say a little prayer of strength — physical and emotional — as I make my way toward the finish line on May 9.

Our final family photo with Penelope Joy.

Our final family photo with Penelope Joy.

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At the Baptismal Font

This past weekend, Dottie Lou was baptized. It was a wonderful day filled with such joy. Our little girl — our little family — is so blessed by the beauty, support and love that surround us.

Baptism at ChurchMr. B and I did not take the decision to have Dottie Lou baptized lightly. We recognize the significance of the event, and we didn’t want to do it “just because.” In fact, we’d started talking about how we feel about baptism when Penelope Joy was in the hospital. And at that point, we had decided we wanted Penelope Joy to make the decision for herself to be baptized. Well … obviously, that did not happen, and Penelope Joy was never baptized.

But, since then, our lives have changed — our faith has changed. When I was pregnant with Dottie Lou, I reached out to our pastor to see if we could have some time to chat with him about baptism, its significance and what baptism means in our church.

One thing I love about our pastor is his “OKness” with questions and honest discussion. (He’s also OK with doubts — which is a topic for another day.) After a nice talk with him — over a delicious Thai meal, of course — Mr. B and I continued the discussion for a while. We wanted to make sure we weren’t making a decision for Dottie Lou that was selfish. And we wanted to make sure we understood each of our own feelings and what those meant for our family.

In the end, we came to more fully understand our religion’s beliefs, our church’s beliefs and, much more importantly, our own beliefs. And, here’s what we believe about baptism and why we decided to have Dottie Lou baptized:

  • It is an important rite, as a Christian, to be baptized in the faith. Whether that happens as a baby, as a child or as an adult, we believe that it is part of what it means to be a Christian — and to be a member of the Christian family.
  • It is a sign to Dottie Lou that we will raise her in a Christian home and teach her about faith through our actions and through our love of her — and of each other and the world around us.
  • It is an acceptance of fellow members of our church as members of Dottie Lou’s extended family — as people she can turn to when she needs someone to hold her up in her faith.
  • It is a request for our family and friends to accept, understand and, hopefully, embrace our decision to raise Dottie Lou as a Christian.

Having Dottie Lou baptized means all of those things above. But, her baptism does not mean we expect her to embrace and choose Christianity without her own study, research and experience. We will raise her in a Christian home that encourages — and expects — free thought and exploration. I welcome the days we can have discussions about the world’s religions. I look forward to learning more about Islam and Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism right alongside Dottie Lou.

I want Dottie Lou to choose her religion — or lack of religion — for herself. Her questions will be welcomed, and we’ll find the answers to them together. Her doubts will be embraced, and we’ll all work to become stronger in our faith.

I was baptized when I was 4(ish) years old. And I was raised in a Christian home — with one of the most wonderful, giving mothers showing me what it means to walk in God’s light. But Christianity didn’t just “happen” to me. I don’t even know that I believed in God until a couple of years ago. And every day I fail, in some way, to be the Christian I want to be.

And I hope Dottie Lou’s journey is similar — I hope she stumbles and falls in her faith. I hope her walk of faith meanders through the woods and takes her on wonderful adventures. And, no matter what she ends up believing — which may be different for every season of her life — I just want her to know that she is loved and accepted exactly as she is.

Dottie Lou

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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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On Choosing a Pediatrician

After I gave everyone a Sprout update the other day, I’ve had a few questions — particularly about how we chose our pediatrician. Let me tell you, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

You see, we started the search for a pediatrician one day back in September 2013 when the doctors and nurses started preparing us to take Penelope Joy home. “You’ll need to find a pediatrician right away,” they said. Because we hadn’t even started looking. Honestly — why would we? We were staring down the road of a very long hospital stay and hadn’t really thought we’d get to take Penelope Joy home any time soon. (Well … you all know how that turned out.)

Anyway …

We started by talking to the nurses and doctors. And then we went to our friends for recommendations. With all of the 24-hour care and amazing staff at the children’s hospital, we were spoiled. And not just any pediatrician would do.

Recommendations were as far as we got.

We had set up an initial meet-n-greet with a pediatrician, but Penelope Joy took a turn for the very-worst, so we canceled that appointment — promising to reschedule once Penelope Joy turned around.

That appointment never got rescheduled.

But, when it came time to pick a pediatrician for Sprout, the initial legwork was done. We had narrowed it down to two choices: one, an office very close to our house where my own OB was located; the other, a highly recommended pediatrics office about 20 minutes away from our house (whom I’d emailed back and forth while Penelope Joy was in the hospital).

The first choice wouldn’t allow us to set up a meeting before Sprout is born. When I asked what would happen if we chose that office but didn’t have a good relationship with the pediatrician, they told me we’d have to just pick another doctor. So, that choice was immediately out the window.

We set up a meeting with the second office — and, you know what? They remembered me. And they remembered Penelope Joy. She wasn’t even a patient there, and they knew her. What’s more, they asked if we’d like a personal one-on-one meeting with someone on their team instead of doing the traditional meet-n-greet that would include other expectant parents.  Because they knew our story was different and that we would have questions and feelings and concerns that were different. And, still, because even to this day, sometimes it’s hard to be in a room with other pregnant women and mothers of newborns.

When we did meet with the woman at the office, she was kind and understanding. And when I apologized (well in advance) that if we chose that office I might be a little needy at first due to our past experience, she smiled at me and said, “of course you would be, and we wouldn’t expect anything else.”

All of this aside, even if we had met with 100 pediatricians, we most likely would have chosen this office. Because they acknowledged something in Mr. B and me that 90 percent of people in our lives (doctors, family, friends) still don’t understand: we are not first-time parents.* Yes, our first trip around this track was very, very different than that of parents who walk away from the hospital with a baby.

And, no, we didn’t do the whole sleepless-nights-with-a-crying-newborn thing. But, we did do the no-sleep-for-38-days thing when we were waiting for the nurse on duty to call and tell us that, yep, we missed Penelope Joy’s last breath because she died while we were selfishly at home in our own bed.

And, no, we didn’t change diaper after diaper after diaper, wondering when she would finally stop crapping all over herself. But, we did stand by her side begging her bladder and kidneys to do something, anything. Praying to God for any amount of relief he (or she) could give to our precious, water-retaining baby.

And, no, I didn’t have middle-of-the-night feedings over and over and over again. But, I was up and pumping every three hours — my heart full of hope that one day I would get to give her that milk and give her something no one else could give her (even those doctors and nurses who were saving her life while I stood by and watched).

And, no, I didn’t stand by her crib every night with my hand under her nose praying she was still breathing — I had machines to tell me they were breathing for her. But, Mr. B and I did hold her as she took her very last breaths — knowing I’d never get to be the mom standing over a crib waiting for that next breath.

So, yeah, every time someone tells us “just you wait” or “well, this is your first time” or “one day you’ll understand” it burns. Really bad. And is still a painful reminder of everything we lost. The fact that our pediatrician recognized that we have been parents — we are parents — went a very long way in helping us decide where we’d take our precious Sprout.


*Please don’t think I believe this means Mr. B and I don’t have any learning to do. Because we do — a lot. A lot, a lot, actually. And we’ll be the first to tell you that we are clueless on many things. We’re nervous and anxious and scared — just like any new parents bringing their baby home from the hospital. (Holy cow, you guys, we get to bring our baby home!) But forgetting that we have, indeed, done this before also forgets that Penelope Joy existed — and that she made Mr. B a dad and me a mom.

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