Mother’s Day

Today we celebrated my fourth Mother’s Day. I received many messages from mom friends and non-mom friends letting me know that I was heavy on their hearts today. It is nice to know that less than four months later, we are still being thought of often. And by people I don’t regularly talk to at that.

Today actually went better than expected. Just thinking about Mother’s Day a few weeks ago made me anxious and emotional. I anticipated the day to be a dark one. One that would pull me in multiple directions as I tried to feel the joy of being a mother to Piper and the deep sorrow of being a mother to Estelle.

We decided to turn down all Mother’s Day invites this year and essentially sit this one out. Luckily our own mothers understood and honored this decision. I believe this decision set me up for success today. I didn’t have to be on. I didn’t have to act. I didn’t have to do anything I wasn’t up to doing. I was able to use my energy to be in the moment with my living child while still being able to honor the one who isn’t living. I also stayed mostly off of social media which helped keep my mood level since pictures of other people’s whole families remind me of the ache I feel deep in my core.

Yesterday I spent the day cleaning Estelle’s room. After she was born we put all baby items in her room and shut the door. I don’t know why, but yesterday felt like the day to organize it. We put the car seat, rock and play, and other items back in storage. I put sheets on the crib mattress, and I laid out the same blanket she was buried in (I bought a duplicate when I came face-to-face with it at Target a month or so ago) over the edge of the crib. It felt good to spend the afternoon in her room and leave the door open when I was done. I even hung up a crystal we received from a friend that sends rainbows across the room when the sun hits it.

That night I slept great. When we woke up on Mother’s Day morning Justin said we could do whatever I wanted. We started the day at my favorite gluten free bakery in Minneapolis. We then headed to Stillwater for a donut and cupcake picnic at the cemetery. It’s funny how quickly that has started to feel normal and honestly, quite peaceful. Piper ran around, collected rocks for her sister, and we watched other grieving people come and go.

After our visit with Estelle we stopped at the grocery store and headed home. Justin planted the Forsythia bush my parents got me, and Piper played with the neighbor kids. I took a walk outside, prepped dinner, and at the last minute we decided to eat with our neighbors since the kids were still playing.

It was a relaxing and enjoyable evening that I am thankful for. I snuck in to give Piper one more kiss before she fell asleep, and I kneeled by her bed and told her that I was so happy to be her Mom. She gave me a kiss, rolled over, and whispered, Happy Mother’s Day. As I walked down the hall I looked at the sunset through Estelle’s window and felt a slight moment of peace about what motherhood looks like for me.

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When Life is Backwards

I find that I’m slowly sharing the story around Estelle’s birth. It comes out in pieces when I’m ready, but also when someone has the courage to ask. It feels good talking about her, but I know my limits. I know what I can share and say out loud that won’t make me cry. I can steer the conversation in a way that allows me to keep my composure until I’m by myself again. Sometimes it’s easy to talk about things. Sometimes it’s not.

Estelle’s memorial service was small and private. Only our parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews were allowed to come. I use the word allowed because others would have been turned away. Opening up and sharing that raw of grief with people was just too much, and having to deal with others would have crippled me.

The pastor we called on to lead Estelle’s service understood that I was in charge. What I wanted, or in many cases, didn’t want, ruled. I could tell that he knew I was setting up boundaries to protect myself and to protect Estelle and he was going to support me 100 percent. I asked him not go heavy on religion, to not tell us that this was in God’s plan. I asked him to let me say fuck if I needed to. And I asked him to keep the service short. I didn’t want to sit there pretending to listen while the inevitable burial of our daughter was prolonged.

One of the first things he told us was that this wasn’t God’s plan. God didn’t have me carry my daughter to term just to take her at the very end like some sick joke. I wasn’t being taught a lesson so don’t think that there is a reason for everything. He said that God doesn’t take children, God receives children. He also said that he never gets feedback that he’s long winded so I told him he was allowed to stay.

I’m glad I did because his sermon during Estelle’s service was thoughtful and is something we’ve held on to. He did his best to deliver comforting words when he knew there was nothing he could say to take away our pain and bring our daughter back to life. He wanted us to leave the service with an idea or thought that might bring us hope in the future.

Piper referred to the baby throughout my entire pregnancy as Tiger. If I asked her if we could name the baby something else she always exclaimed, No, Tiger! Tigers are not often found in these parts of Minnesota so the pastor went another direction with a bee.

He explained that her service was backwards. Losing a child is backwards in life order, and we were mourning the loss of a future instead of the past. Bees have the ability to buzz freely, even backwards, as they navigate in and out of flowers, and Estelle’s initials backwards spell BEE. I chuckled to myself a bit thinking I’ll never be able to kill a bee again, but I liked that bees can also represent spring and a new beginning. There was no carrying on from where you left off from after Estelle, it was a complete course redirect with the hopes of eventually straightening back out. We were just left to hope that somehow God could turn this terribleness around.

The days and weeks following her service had us contemplating what we wanted to do to honor her. We knew we’d eventually build the Little Free Library, but we wanted to do something else as well. We’ve read in more than one grief resource guide that making major decisions early in grief isn’t always the best plan…so we got tattoos!!!

Justin acted pretty quickly and alone and ended up with a beautiful tattoo as a memorial to Estelle. I, on the other hand, needed some encouragement from my experienced little brother. He researched artists and I just rolled with it but eventually set up our appointments. He was going to get a bee and so was I.

I had a lot of time on my hands during leave and ended up designing mine myself. The artist cleaned it up a bit, but it still had the heart and essence of my initial drawing. Rick went with real looking bee.

I was incredibly nervous and embarrassed my brother with my bizarre and frequent questions. I even asked the likelihood of me getting a terrible infection and dying. I mean it is 2018 and all, the year attempting to take us down. It took only about 25 minutes and felt like she was doodling on my skin with a tiny knife.

I had the idea to add the orange to the stripes shortly before our appointment to pay homage to Piper’s nickname for her sister.

After we were all wrapped up we headed outside to meet up with my brother-in-law for dinner. As we were walking to our cars he stopped and asked, I wonder what type of bush this is? I squealed, because I hadn’t noticed the beautiful forsythia bush just outside the shop.

And if that wasn’t enough of a hello, the sky had the most amazing sunset that evening.

Paying it Forward

“But we were so ready. We were so prepared.” Those were some of the first sentences Justin spoke as he tried to make sense of the fact that our baby was dead. How could this have happened to us?

For three months the door to Estelle’s room has been closed. When we got home from the hospital Justin put every baby item he came across in there. We have only gone in there out of necessity or just to make sure this really was our reality and that it was indeed empty.

We talked a few times about what to do with her things. We didn’t, and still don’t, want to donate her clothes, but we had formula, diapers, wipes, a hospital grade breast pump, nursing pads, etc., that we didn’t want to go to waste. We came to the conclusion that we wanted the items to go to a mother who was about to embark on her journey of motherhood feeling less prepared than we did.

YoungLife of the St. Croix Valley has a program for teen parents called, YoungLives. I have donated items in the past and they seemed to be a perfect fit once again. I got their contact information from a friend and reached out to them. A woman responded right away and knew of a Mom or two who would benefit from our items.

She agreed to meet with me over the weekend. It was hard going into Estelle’s room and emptying her drawer that was packed with diapers. It was hard to remove the Costco sized box of wipes from the shelf in her closet, and it was hard to place the little pack of pacifiers on top of the bag knowing they would be used by someone else’s baby.

When the woman met me at my car she gave me a hug right away, and I immediately started to cry. She gave me no fewer than seven hugs in our short time together and assured me the items would find a good home. It felt good knowing we were paying it forward in honor of Estelle. Motherhood isn’t easy, and I hope the mother who receives the items will have a moment of relief even if it is short.

Unbeknownst to me, while I was making the arrangements to donate some of Estelle’s things, her marker was being installed at the cemetery. I knew donating her things and seeing her name permanently etched in stone would make it feel like things were moving forward while I was still stuck back in time.

I still feel a moment of panic when I sip alcohol because I think I must still be pregnant. Sometimes I feel a phantom kick when it really was just a gas bubble. I asked someone the other day what day it was and then realized I sounded absurd because it was my birthday. But how can it really be the end of April?

Reality continues to crush down on me each and everyday. Being strong is exhausting, but being strong is what is required to carry grief for a lifetime. I think of it like training for a marathon, even though I’ve never trained for one and likely never will, but not every run is going to feel good, but you hope it will help you make it to the finish line.

This is 33

If you told me last year, heck, even the morning of January 25, that this is what my 33rd birthday would look like, I wouldn’t have believed you. I never would have thought that my birthday would include cupcakes and a cemetery.

I love birthdays. I’m a firm believer in never working on your birthday and always celebrating. It doesn’t have to be big, but another year of life complete should be honored. As my birthday approached this year I found myself having no desire to celebrate. I felt numb towards the idea. Indifferent.

Many people asked me what I wanted, what I was wishing for. I can’t exactly respond with, “I wish my dead baby was alive,” because I don’t want to make someone feel bad for caring about me. But honestly, will I ever wish for anything more as long as I live? Hard to say, but I doubt it.

Wishing and hoping for something that can never come true hurts, a lot. You know in your head that it’s an irrational thought, but your heart continues to plead. It continues to hope that there is somehow an alternative ending.

As year 33 comes to an end and I begin my 34th year, I will do my best to continue to move forward. I will do my best to have a positive impact on those around me. And I will do my best to parent both Piper and Estelle.

And special shout out to those who did make my day as special as another day without my daughter could be. From the treats, cheese, paint supplies, sweet hellos, office decor, and more, I continue to feel loved.

A Sign

First day back to work…check! The day went well, but I’m exhausted. I sure missed my daily nap. Before I turn in for the night I wanted to share a more hopeful moment in my grief journey.

On one of my more recent hard days, the day that would have been her second month birthday, I began pleading for a sign. I needed God, Estelle, or anyone who would listen to send me sign. I needed a sign that Estelle was with me. I needed a sign that loved ones looking down on you isn’t complete rubbish. I needed a sign that I wasn’t alone.

I wasn’t sure when I’d get this sign. I figured it could be hours, days, or even years, but I clarified my request to have it not take too long. The next day I was heading to support group alone for the first time. Justin had been gone for a few nights already at an oddly timed drill weekend. My biggest fear about going alone was having to speak our story aloud. Usually Justin does that for us. As suspected, the story of Estelle came out in bits and pieces as I failed to sound coherent, but in the end it was ok and I made it through. As our time together was coming to an end, one of the facilitators gave us each a gift—forsythia branches.

They looked like random branches she picked up on a walk, but she explained how she brings these branches into her home because it’s one of the first plants to bloom every spring. She loves to garden as a way to honor her daughter and when winter gets long they bring her hope.

We joked about what it would mean if our branches never bloomed, but she insisted they would when we least expected it, and that they would bloom yellow flowers. Yellow. I stopped dead in my tracks, and thought, yellow. I was so happy to hear the blooms would be yellow. I can’t explain why, but yellow is the color that reminds me of Estelle. My first sign. (Side note: The Forsythia plant is named after William Forsyth who was royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. Take that for what you will as well!)

Fast forward a week and a half later. I’m writing and tubbing and of course, crying. I’m worried about my first day back to work and settling back in to “normal.” I worry about what it will be like for all of us to be getting back into a routine that was once so familiar but now felt strange.

After getting the words out, and the tears, I started to feel better. I was making dinner, prepping for the next day, when Justin let out a little gasp. He said, “Look! The branches are starting to bloom!”

And just like that, the night before I returned to work, Estelle sent a little message to let me know she’s still with me.

The End of a Chapter

The sentence that I have been given, a childless maternity leave, is coming to an end. I am unsure if I will feel a sense of freedom since I will no longer be alone in my quiet home, or if I will feel unsafe since I will no longer be allowed to move at my own pace or cry so freely as I can do now.

To say my leave didn’t go as I had planned is an overwhelming understatement. I remember sitting in a meeting at work when I got an email sharing that Justin would be allowed to take six weeks of paid paternity leave. I was so excited and emotional. The thought of having him home as we adjusted to life with two kids brought tears to my eyes. We could keep Piper home more often if there were two of us. We could sleep in shifts. We could watch Parks and Rec and enjoy six blissful weeks as a family.

I was finishing my MBA when I was on maternity leave with Piper. I hoped this second time around would allow me to be more present to enjoy all the cries, the late nights and early mornings, and the freedom of not having an agenda. I wanted our house to get messy, for visitors to come over gradually, for me to probe about vaccinations and to push hand sanitizer, and most of all, I wanted to neurotically watch my baby sleep all night just to ensure she was still breathing.

Instead, I slept through the night. I worked out almost everyday. I took baths, sometimes more than once a day. I received many gifts. I napped, a lot. We took a family vacation to Disney World. It appears as if I had a bomb staycation. In reality, most of those activities were done out of necessity and not for enjoyment. Each workout was to clear my head and to hopefully look less pregnant. Each bath was spent crying, connecting with other loss Moms, or aimlessly scrolling Instagram and feeling irritated that it was still serving up living infant ads. I received each gift with gratitude but longed to trade it in for my baby. Each nap was a temporary refuge from my thoughts. And, worst of all, I never got to see my baby take a breath. Not even a single one.

So heading back to the office tomorrow brings mixed emotions. I find myself excited to be with some of my favorite people, but I fear things will be different. Of course they will, it would be silly to think they wouldn’t be. I fear my creativity will be gone and my brain won’t work properly. I fear my mind will wander during a meeting, and I won’t be able to get control over it. I fear I’ll awkwardly become emotional when I didn’t mean to or it doesn’t make sense to others. I fear for the first time someone new asks me why I was out for two months or how many children I have. But most of all, I fear that going back to work will mean I’m ok. It will mean that I’m not always thinking about both Piper and Estelle and that I’m no longer wishing things were different.

Prior to Estelle’s birth I bought her and Piper matching pants. Piper’s said Big Sister and Estelle’s said Little Sister. I had already planned, months in advance, that they’d wear those pants on Estelle’s first day of daycare. I imagined crying on my way to work just as I did when Piper first started at her school. I imagined taking a break in my day to call and check-in on her. I imagined Piper driving her teachers a little crazy because all she’d want to do is check on her baby sister all day.

I confided in a friend and colleague that I couldn’t stop thinking about these pants. Once I said it, or texted it rather, it helped. I needed to get those feelings, those words, off my chest. I hope by sharing these words today will help me tomorrow morning as I grieve the end of my maternity leaving, the dreams that I had for those first few months, for the damn super cute pants that won’t be worn, and for the employee and colleague I was before Estelle was born. I hope to give the new Elizabeth grace, I hope to be patient with those who just don’t get it but try to, and I hope to insert comedy at just the right time when things get weird.

As my work life picks back up, I’ll acknowledge my fears and remind myself that this is the end of a chapter but not the end of my story. I’ll head downstairs and pack up my work bag, I’ll lay out my clothes that don’t fit quite right, and I’ll go get a mani/pedi to try to appear a little more put together on the outside than I feel on the inside.

What’s in a Name?

I don’t think many people know the story behind Estelle’s name so what better day to share the story than on Reese Witherspoon’s birthday.

I was committed to Estelle’s name long before I was Piper’s. It just seemed right for our next girl. I pictured her being funny, strong, and full of personality like her big sister. But I also pictured her a little more feisty and having a taste for the finer things in life. I imagined her costing her Dad and me a lot of money as she grew up. So the origin of her name is two fold…

In September of 2016 our little family traveled to Sweden. While visiting we stumbled upon the Royal Family. No joke. We were like, “Oh, there is the King and Queen. Helloooo, King and Queen!!!” That day in September marked the second Royal Family I’ve seen while traveling. First ones being the decedents of the one and only, Queen Elizabeth II. Though, saying someone is the one and only when they are actually the second feels a bit off, but I digress.

After that moment I decided I should ramp up my fandom for the Swedish royals. That is when I stumbled upon Princess Estelle. She is second in line of succession to the Swedish thrown. You go, little girl! I mentioned the name to Justin, knowing he’d love the tie to Sweden.

We didn’t find out we were pregnant with our second baby until May of 2017. I didn’t think much about the name in the time in between, but I was secretly hoping we’d have another girl. Why? Because I’ve always loved the name Elle and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to use it if we had a boy.

I felt like Elle would be too silly of a name, or perhaps the reason too silly, because I absolutely love the character Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde. Don’t laugh. That woman is fearless and fashionable. When I need a pep talk, she is my go-to.

I started to think of names that Elle could be a nickname for. Elenor? Love the name but too popular. Ella or Stella? Again, love them both, but gaining popularity. That is when I remembered Estelle. It. Was. Perfect.

I mentioned it to Justin and he was on board, even with my planned nickname and tribute to Reese’s best career move. I then threw out my name as the middle name. Estelle Elizabeth…it sounded dreamy to me and once we found out the gender we knew it would be perfect for our next little girl.

We didn’t tell anyone the name prior to her birth. I felt uncomfortable totally committing before seeing her face. When she was born, having just found out less than an hour before that we’d never get to know her like we had planned, the nurse placed her on my chest and asked what her name was. I looked down at her through tears and proudly said, Estelle Elizabeth.