Tag Archives: recovery

An Unselfish Motherly Love

Today is the day I’ve been dreading for quite some time. Being a childless mother on Mother’s Day is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things a woman can experience.

Whether through infertility, miscarriage, death or any other loss, losing a child steals from you so many experiences you’d been dreaming about and longing for — and one of them is the rite of passage that is Mother’s Day.

Last year, Mr. B took me out for my first Mother’s Day brunch. And we were talking about that precious baby growing inside of me and all the years we’d have with him/her. What would our baby be like? Whose characteristics would our precious Pickle have? I thought I’d have dozens more Mother’s Days to celebrate.

It wasn’t long after that when we found out about Penelope Joy’s heart defect. And it was way, way too soon after that when we held Penelope Joy in our arms for the last time.

My family

My family, the day before Penelope Joy died.

I’ve said it before: I don’t feel like a mom. Because I didn’t get any of the experiences moms are supposed to have: taking our baby home from the hospital, spending sleepless nights with a cranky baby, watching her take her first steps, snapping that ubiquitous first-day-of-school photo, talking to her about boys (or girls), helping her with her homework, sending her off to prom, watching her dance with her father at her wedding, holding my first grandbaby. I didn’t get any of those experiences with Penelope Joy — I will never get any of those experiences with Penelope Joy.

Just because I don’t feel like a mom, though, doesn’t mean I’m not a mom. And I say this for my benefit as much as I do yours. Being a mom is so many things. For some, it’s messy diapers, homework help and bedtime kisses. For me — short-lived as it was — motherhood was about being there for Penelope Joy and loving her through her very short 38 days on this planet. For me, being a mom was knowing when to let go. Because holding on was hurting my baby. Because holding on was selfish.

You see, being a mom is, ultimately, about love. Big, selfless love that always puts someone’s needs above its own. And no matter how desperately we wanted Penelope Joy with us or how hard we loved her, we knew that she was hurting and that she was the one suffering. We knew that we had to say good-bye. And we loved her enough to let her go.

So, yeah, I am a mom. A childless mom. I will always be a mom. Because to deny my motherhood is to deny that Penelope Joy existed — and to deny that she mattered. Because she did. She does. She always will. Penelope Joy made me a mom — the best gift I’ve ever received. And for that I will always be grateful.

Collage of me holding P.J.

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‘How Can I Help?’

You learn a lot about how to support someone when you’re on the receiving end of it. There have been things people have said that really stung — and then I realized I’ve probably said them myself at some point. They meant well, I’m sure of it. I mean, if I ever said those things, I know I meant well. But, wow, when you’re going through rough waters, it becomes crystal clear how wrong — or right — certain words and actions are.

I’ve  gotten asked — many times, actually — by people who have a friend with a baby or child in the hospital about what they can do to support their friend. Now, my story is not everyone’s story. And just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean every parent in my shoes feels that way. But, if you were to ask me, here’s what I would suggest:

  • Show up. Sit in the waiting room with a book or your work or some knitting. Even if your friend can’t come out and see you — she knows you’re there. You don’t have to sit in silent vigil. But, let her know you’ll be there from 1 to 3 one afternoon. Having a kid in the hospital is tough — you never know when they’re going to start crashing or when it’s going to be smooth sailing. So many times, just knowing that I could sneak out to the waiting room for  quick hug from my friend was enough to get me through. Even if I couldn’t sit and visit.
  • Create a hospital care pack. Include quarters (for vending machines), healthful snacks (because vending machines snacks get old — literally and figuratively — maybe try trail mixes, bottles of water, mints), crossword puzzle books, decks of cards, toiletries (the hospital-supplied ones are not exactly high-quality), etc. Make sure to put a hand-written note in there. Or, better yet, maybe several hand-written notes that say on the outside “Open when you need a hug.” Or, “Open when you’d like to smile.”
  • Make her dinner. Tell her you’re going to bring it on whatever day at whatever time. Don’t expect your friend to sit and eat with you, but know that she will appreciate the friendly face, quick hug and fresh homemade dinner.
  • Call and text and email her. We heard a lot of “we didn’t want to bother you.” But, here’s the thing, if your friend is busy or in a meeting with a doctor or holding her baby, she won’t answer her phone or email. But, she’ll know you cared. And she’ll know you’re thinking of her and her family. And, when she has a few minutes, she’ll answer you back. It just might take some time.
  • Stop by her house and do some stuff: check her mail, do her laundry, pet her cats, wash her sheets. What I wouldn’t have given to slide into fresh, clean sheets on the few nights we went home after the hospital. But the last thing we had time — or energy — to do was wash our sheets. Thankfully, though, the hospital had a small laundry room for us to use or else we may have gone for quite some time without clean britches, too.
  • Don’t stop living your life. Just because our life stopped while we sat by Penelope Joy’s side doesn’t mean our friends’ did. They still had work and kids and life they were living. Don’t be scared to talk about your life. And, for crying out loud, don’t be afraid to be happy. Sometimes talking about what’s going on outside the hospital is a welcome reprieve from the constant talk of blood test results, EEGs, pulse ox levels and end-of-life decisions. Talking about normal, happy things is OK. If we weren’t in the mood, we wouldn’t have had you visit.
  • And, finally, be patient. Some days, it’s hard enough to remember to brush your teeth when you have a child in the hospital. The experience is exhausting — mentally, physically, emotionally. So remembering to call someone back or trying to be a gracious host when someone visits can be a lot of work. Have patience — and compassion — for your friend. She is experiencing something no one should ever have to experience. And she deserves a break.

In the end, know that there is nothing you can do to take away your friend’s pain. Or fear. Or sadness. But, by putting yourself out there and showing her you’re there for her, it will bring in moments of light.

I’m going to go one step further, here, and provide some advice that you didn’t ask for. Mr. B and I have gone through something life altering — and life shattering. And we’ve had some of the most amazing support, encouragement and love we have ever experienced in our lives. No, I mean, seriously amazing. And I thank God for our support system every single day. But, we’ve also had some well-meaning people try to find just the right words to say, even though there are no right words. And some words that sound good coming out actually cause the recipient more pain and sadness than they’re already experiencing.

  • It was God’s will.” I could go on and on about this one. And, I kinda already did. But, let me just say this: I can’t believe in a God who would give us this chapter of our story simply because he (or she) could. And I certainly can’t think that Mr. B and I deserved to lose our daughter or that our sweet, innocent Penelope Joy deserved to die. Bad things happen — too often to even count — simply because they do. God isn’t there to hand them out. He/she is there to get us through them. Instead of “it was God’s will,” try “oh, wow, I am so sorry. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.” Or, “is it OK if I add your family to my prayer chain?”
  • “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” God thinks a heck of a lot more of me than I do of myself — probably true on many occasions. But, again, the thought that God purposefully did this is pretty disheartening. And not something to tell someone who is in a situation that would  make even the most faithful question their faith.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything.” Oh, gosh. We heard this so many times. And most of the time, my response was no response. On any given day, we didn’t know what we needed — except our baby, happy and healthy in my arms at home. And not even some of the most talented doctors and nurses I’ve ever met could do that. Putting the ball in our court was a game-ender. There were people, however, who just … did. They said they’d show up with dinner, and they showed up with dinner — no expectations for us to eat it with them. Just a hot, homemade meal and a hug. And then there were the people who showed up and cleaned our old apartment because we were making funeral arrangements and, well, mourning. Instead of telling your friend to let you know what she needs, see if there’s anything you can anticipate — and provide it for her. No strings, no expectations, no added stress.
  • “It wasn’t meant to be.” I’m hoping I don’t even need to tell you why this is an inappropriate response to someone who just lost a child.
  • “I know just how you feel.” People have told us this countless times — I still hear it to this day. I actually had someone tell me that their dog of 10 years recently died, so she knew “just how I felt.” And a mom whose baby had a cold “totally understands” because she, too, was watching her child suffer. Please. Just stop with the comparisons. Even Mr. B doesn’t know exactly how I feel — and I don’ t know exactly how he feels. And we lived the exact same story. Every person is different. So, no, I’m sorry, you don’t know exactly how I feel. I know you mean well — I really, really do — but comparing my situation to yours is hurtful — especially if you’re talking about your dog. (Don’t get me wrong, I love our dog — but she is no replacement for Penelope Joy.)
  • Or, maybe you don’t call or don’t write or … quite frankly … fall off the face of the earth. Because you’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. Remember, though, there are no right words to say. Those friends who stuck by me? The ones who called and just sat there in silence because there were no words? Or the ones who sat with me and cried? The ones who said, “Sh*t. That sucks.”? The ones who showed up with a bottle of wine and Kleenex? Those are the ones who nailed it who got it. Because they’re the ones who were there for me through the worst possible experience of my life. Even though it sucked and was ugly and made them, God forbid, uncomfortable.
  • Last, but certainly not least: “Are you going to try again?” As if Penelope Joy was just our first stab at something. As if practice makes perfect. As if she didn’t matter and we can just move on to the next kid. What I think you mean to ask is: “Are you going to have more children?” Because Penelope Joy mattered. And she will always be our oldest child. And any future kids (if we have any future kids) will know her story — they will know she existed and that she mattered and that she was a light in our lives.

In closing, the very best thing you can do for your friend — no matter what she’s going through — is love. Love hard. And love her through it. No matter what “it” is. Be there — physically and emotionally — even when, no, especially when things get ugly and uncomfortable.

Please, please don’t take this post the wrong way. Mr. B and I are eternally grateful for all of the love and support we received — and continue to receive. And, I will always take someone saying the “wrong thing” over someone who disappears. I only share this post (written from an honest, caring spot in my heart) as a look into things from the other side. The side where moms and dads leave the hospital with a small biohazard baggie of their baby’s curls instead of their actual baby. Thankfully, not everyone has been on this side of the story — and I hope none of you ever are on this side of the story.

Hopefully, some of this may be helpful if you ever are in this situation, looking for how you best can love your friend through some pretty rough waters. Remember: the words and actions we use matter. And so do the ones we don’t.

P.S. If you’ve made it this far, let me apologize for the length of this post. Another reason I’m not a very successful blogger is that I can’t/won’t/don’t limit my posts to “a readable 200 to 300 words.” I’ve got stuff I wanna say — and a lot of words in the dictionary at my disposal. What’s a girl to do?

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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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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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A Random Post on Why I Write

After this weekend’s 10k with Mr. B, I’m due for another race recap. And it will come. But I just can’t write it yet.

Something else is weighing heavy on my mind and on my heart right now. Something I’ve only alluded to and probably will not write about in depth for quite some time. You see, while I’m real and don’t hold back when I write about my journey, there are people in my life who choose not to share their journeys. And I respect that.

At a certain point, I will have to write about what’s going on. Even if I write about it just for me, marking my post “private” and going on about my day. This blog has become about so much more than a place for me to share my story; it’s become my outlet and my therapy.

My little corner of the Internet has given me a place to “talk out” my issues, my hopes, my fears, my joys. It’s my place to process my thoughts and figure out the intricacies of my life. And I know that at the end of a rough day or, even, a particularly successful one, this blog will be waiting for me — a blank screen and all the letters a girl could need to write her story.

Keyboard

All the letters — ripe for the picking. What will it be today?

And so I write about my story, dealing with my thoughts in the process, hit “Publish” and move on with my life.

But sometimes something comes along that people don’t talk about and I can’t write about. And it becomes difficult to process it — and more difficult to focus on anything else. So I struggle. And I dwell on it, my emotional stability hanging on by a thread.

I always manage to sew it back up, getting ahold of my emotions and working to move on with the tasks at hand. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, like today, it requires a vague, random blog post just so I can feel as if I’m doing something about it.

Writing for me is more than a career and a hobby. It is directly related to my emotional and spiritual health. When I’m feeling writer’s block, I know something else in my life isn’t quite right. When I’m feeling emotional, I know I need to find some time and write. Even when it’s hard, I know I must write.

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” ~Lord Byron

This blog has become my safe haven, my therapy. And to a certain extent, it’s the only place I can feel completely comfortable sharing my life.

Most of this blog focuses on physical health and fitness. But there are times, like today, when I find a need to talk about my emotional health. Which is fitting because emotional, physical and mental health all go hand in hand — and all are equally important.

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It’s All A Matter of Control

So, it’s come to my attention recently that I have a slight “thing” with control … and plans … and timelines … and goals. OK, it’s not breaking news. It is who I am. Who I’ve always been. It keeps me focused and keeps me taking the steps I need to take to end up at my final goal — a specific, timed and measurable goal. It’s true of anything I do — I set goals and go after them with everything I have: School, work, life …

I think that’s why weight-loss and long-distance running work for me. They involve plans. And goals. And charts (oh, boy, do I love charts). And spreadsheets. And — this is my very favorite part — calendars and planners. Preferably color-coded — all of it. With a goal end date and a specific outcome in mind — spelled out, in writing, so I stay focused.

“Control your destiny or somebody else will.” ~Jack Welch

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t allow myself some flexibility. Because I do. There are times life doesn’t go according to plan. That’s why you have plans B, C and D. With branches and off-shoots and baby-step plans in between.

Ask Rosebud. She’ll tell ya. When we went on the 30th Birthday Extravaganza earlier this year, I had every intention of playing it all by ear, flying by the seat of my pants. But, and I’ll be completely honest, I had to plan to be spontaneous. And even have a few “what-if” baby plans in case something didn’t work out.

Mr. B can tell you the same thing. Or, at least he’ll be able to after we take our New Year’s Chicago vacation together. It’s pretty planned out. Heck, I even plan to be spontaneous on New Year’s Eve and order room service and walk around the city, just the two of us. This is, apparently, as spontaneous as I get.

I’m not ashamed to admit that:

  • I like making plans and lists and checking things off
  • Office supply stores make me very, very happy — a girl can never have too many Post-It notes, black ink pens, tiny notebooks, Sharpies and file folders
  • Dog-eared books make me extremely uncomfortable and somewhat angry — don’t even get me started on broken spines of books
  • Flying by the seat of our pants probably ain’t gonna fly with me, unless I really, really like love ya
  • I make lists on how to be spontaneous
  • I will know every complication to medical procedures I’m going to have — and it served me well in preparing myself for wonky-mouth caused by my salivary gland removal
  • I over-pack no matter where I’m going or for how long — I just want to be prepared for anything and everything
  • I can probably name off all the side effects to my medications — and maybe even yours
  • I think about things that are way down the line so I can plan for them — and plan around them
  • Someone’s inability to make decisions — especially the simple ones like where to go for dinner — is stressful for me
  • Second-guessing and going back on a decision makes me anxious
  • Worrying sometimes brings me comfort and helps me keep my mind occupied while waiting for whatever is to come
  • I am both an optimist and a planner at the same time
  • Just because I plan for the worst doesn’t mean I don’t hope for the best — because I do, I really, really do

Coincidence that my three favorite keys lie so closely together on a keyboard? I think not. How I function? How I succeed? It’s about control. And exploring all of the alternative options. See what I did there? Tied the random picture right into what I was writing about. Clever? Or a lovely control of my thoughts and words?

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My Biggest Health/Fitness Challenge

Honestly, my biggest health/fitness challenge is myself. Specifically, it’s my tendency to become obsessive about things. I’ve been called “borderline OCD” and I see my love for structure and rules in a number of areas of my life: cleaning or, sometimes, the lack thereof; germs; work; family stuff; work; food; exercise; work; the law.

And sometimes it takes over.

I got that way at first when I was doing Weight Watchers. I was constantly checking Points values, repeatedly looking up menus of restaurants I knew I’d be visiting and worrying about what my mom might be serving when I visited home (in two weeks). It became an issue because I was missing out on the enjoyable aspects of food and meals with other people. And, I fully admit, completely annoying.

I did it with running at first as well. Wanting to run every day. Not taking enough rest time. Feeling guilty if life caused me to reschedule a run. I think that’s why I’m liking having a written half marathon plan: it’s organized, proven and provides “rules” to run by. Plus, it requires me to take rest days.

This issue is what caused me to feel so out of balance with my regular life, my running life and my weight-loss life. I wasn’t able to find the time or energy to be controlling and obsessive about all of them, so I was rundown, worn out and not focusing on the right things. I’m finding myself in a healthier, more balanced place right now, thanks to a number of things:

  • Therapy
  • Refocusing my goals
  • A written training plan
  • Recognizing my need for control — and finding healthier ways to use it
  • Creating non-weight-loss and fitness-related goals

For me, the key is balance. And I’m slowly finding creating it.

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