In the beginning

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. I once heard that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts. As a middle aged mother of five boys, I can attest that the middle does indeed count.

I had three boys at the time that I found out I was pregnant with Olie. I was 37 years old and my youngest was 2. We had not planned whether we were going to have any more children or not, but as we learned, it did not matter what we had planned. God had plans for us.

We found out that I was pregnant by the way many do. I had missed my period and we were not sure what that meant, but sure that I could be pregnant. We were scared when we found out about the lack of planning that had gone into this new life, but we were ready for whatever was coming our way.

Except that we weren’t really ready. We lamented about what it meant for us financially, asked whether we had a big enough house, how long I could stay home with the baby. We worried whether we could emotionally support a fourth child. Still, we trusted ourselves that this was part of our life’s work and that God would provide, as He has done with every child he has given us.

If I could go back and change anything, I would have worried less and spent more time admiring the life that was growing inside of me. For he would only be there for nine short weeks and those initial thoughts would haunt me for a lifetime.

After many ultrasounds and seeing a heartbeat, we were hopeful. We had three other children without complication so even though I was 37 surely this baby would be the same. We truly were fools. At 9 weeks and 2 days, we went in for the ultrasound that would forever change our view of how life actually works. We had lost our beloved Olie due to multiple chromosomal problems.

We were heartbroken and could not even speak. To be honest, I think we were in shock. We came home to tell the boys who knew I was having a baby and our entire family fell apart in tears.

It has been a long and heavy road since the day that we lost Olie. There are good and bad moments. There are moments of joy followed by moments of intense sorrow. The journey back has been hopeful, lonely, and unforgiving at times. I no longer recognize myself some days, but I am hopeful that with each step we take as a family, we are moving to remembering Olie with joy and happiness instead of tears.

To anyone who has found this page and knows the loss that I am describing, know that I am thinking and praying for you. It is a difficult and overwhelming journey at times, but when you emerge from the darkness, you will be a better version of yourself. It is worth the work.

To anyone who knows someone who is on this journey, be patient with them. Listen to them and support them with anything that they need. This is their journey and theirs to make alone, but support is the number one reason they will come back a better version of themselves. If you would like to send out a bag to acknowledge them, please visit my contact page for information.
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You are the map

I recently came across this quote about being lost and being the map. In my personal journey of grief, I have been lost many times. I have been trying to figure out who the new normal me really is. I have tried some directions to only discover that those directions were wrong. That was not the normal me. I have tried some directions that I thought were not possible only to be pleasantly surprised. I have gotten lost a bunch of times. I am still lost in some ways, but I am learning to enjoy the journey.

One of the greatest things about grief is that it is a reset. I know most people don’t associate grief with great things, but if you look hard enough there are things worth noting that can be good, even great. Grief causes you to reanalyze your life and figure out if your priorities are actually what you are doing. It takes away the unimportant things because they were never important to begin with.

Grief reminds you of the little girl or boy inside of you-you know the one who thought that anything was possible. It helps you to develop causes that are important to you and teaches you to fight for them. Grief even gives you a voice and a seat at the table. I always had my opinions about topics, but grief had given me a platform to speak about these topics with firsthand knowledge of the topics that I am passionate about. Grief has found my voice.

Grief challenges the way you think. Remember that thing that happened to you 10 years ago and at the time it seemed so dire and so important. Well, grief has a way of showing what is really important to concentrate on and what may not deserve your thoughts or energy. It causes you to think before you speak and consider other’s feelings before you share your own.

Grief makes you realize that everyday is a gift. There was a point in my own journey when I had to step back and think to myself ” Is this what Olie would want for me, for our family?” Would he want me to be sad when I think about him? Would he want me to do something to help others? Would he want our own family to remember him with love and affection or cry at the very sound of his name?

Grief allows you to face your fears. When I was pregnant with Finnegan, I was terrified most days of my pregnancy. Then at the end of the pregnancy, I developed gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. I met with a high risk doctor and had more ultrasounds than any human should ever have. However, there was a turning point in the pregnancy when I realized it was beyond my control. I could take care myself the best I could, eat, exercise, sleep, and do things to help the baby, but ultimately I had no control over what happened at the end. This allowed me to face my fear of losing another baby. I woke up everyday and told myself that this baby would be different and that this baby was going to make it. Sometimes I believed it and sometimes I didn’t, but something magical happened when I faced my fears. It didn’t control me anymore. The fear no longer had any power. Even as I labored with Finn for two days and hemorrhaged 1.5 liters of blood, I repeated this to myself. There was nothing I could do. It was my body and I had to trust the once broken body that had lost Olie, but I trusted it nevertheless.

Grief can be a place where you are eternally lost or it can be an opportunity where you become the map. Sure you will get lost along the way or take directions from someone who doesn’t know where they are going either, but eventually you can choose where to go and what direction you want to head. The choice is yours. Be the map.

To the woman I was before Olie

It’s been almost two years since we lost Olie and I have had almost 730 days to think about how much my life has changed since we lost Olie. I have read countless posts about the before and after. I have even written a few myself. It is just recently that I realized something so important to my journey. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be the person I was before I lost Olie. It’s not that I wouldn’t take Olie here for even a moment. I would in a heartbeat. For me, Olie has changed my life in so many incredible ways that I can’t go back and I don’t want to go back to the person that I was before Olie.

I remember 2016. It was the year that Conner made his first reconciliation. Reconciliation is where you go before a priest and tell them sins. I remember mine perfectly that year. I talked with the priest and my number one sin was judgment. He gave me my penance and asked me to reflect upon the fact that judgment of others does no good. He spoke to me quite a bit about it. I left the confessional feeling like an awful person in some ways. I remembered back to when I was a kid and my sins then. They were so much simpler than the sins of an adult. One month later, I lost Olie.

For a long time, I wondered if Olie was my penance and that God made me give Olie back because I was not worthy. Did God not trust me with his precious little boy because I was so busy judging others? Was God showing me some sort of awful lesson of the ramifications of judgment? Was God punishing me for my sins? The answers I know now were no. I know now that God has used this pain and the loss of Olie to make me a better and more understanding, compassionate human being.

As we started Olie’s Footprints and I heard more and more stories of loss and families that are heartbroken, I realized that so many things that I thought were important, really weren’t. I began to examine my life as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Was I a worthy person to know? I no longer judged someone’s journey and if someone bumped into me and spilled my drink all over, I stepped back and wondered what was happening in their life. Had someone they loved just died? Had they lost their favorite pet? Were they late to a job they loved or hated? Were their kids all over the place this morning? I now judge my life and my journey.

Olie has made me a better person in so many ways. He has made me a better mother, wife, daughter, and friend. He has made me a better human being. Judgment really has no place in this world. Judgment has no place in loss either. We all grieve differently. We all remember differently. We all love differently. I don’t judge someone else’s journey and I expect them to not judge mine as well. The differences we all have need to be celebrated and honored more. Thank you, Olie, for making me a better me.

The difficult journey to a rainbow

I remember first looking into Finnegan’s eyes when he was born. I tried to smile at him, but really I was both happy and sad at the same time. I was so happy to have our Finn. He and his brothers are the light of my life. I felt conflicted though. I wanted to be just happy again. I felt like I was caught between two worlds-one that was here and one up above. The first few months of Finn’s life were met with forced smiles. I even thought for a while I was going through some version of postpartum depression.

As Finn’s first year birthday approaches, I think about that almost daily. Now when I smile at Finn, it is a genuinely happy smile. I love that little boy with my whole heart. I now know that when I smile at Finn, Olie smiles with me. I now know that I’m not taking anything away from Olie when I love Finn. I am not forgetting Olie or letting him go when I play with Finn.

In all reality, Olie would want me to be happy. Olie would want his brothers to be happy. Olie is happy with us. Olie smiles when we smile and comforts us when we are sad. Olie is in everything that we do as a family. It has been a long journey to this point.

I worry more with my children now that I lost Olie. I am extra protective of Finn especially. He is kind of glued to my hip. I would have it no other way though. I have more moments of joy that I would have thought would be possible a year ago. I don’t know if this kind of joy would have been possible without Finn. In a big way, he was responsible for so much of my healing.

I write this because so many don’t understand the emotions that come with a rainbow. Many judge and say things that they shouldn’t say or think. Many people just think you should be happy and in some way cured from grief. Too many people think you are replacing the baby you lost. No. No. No. Olie and Finn are two separate babies and two different lives. I will always celebrate one while I miss the other.one could never replace the other.

If you have a rainbow and are conflicted about these emotions too, I write to you to let you know that it is ok. It is normal. It is its own journey. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Find your people who get it and support you. Don’t listen to expectations of others. Create your own. Take your time. No one else needs to understand or needs an explanation of how you are feeling. You don’t owe them one. You will get there. It just takes some time. Enjoy the journey on the days you can and take the moments of joy that you can. When you feel sad, lonely, or mad, let yourself. As always, reach out when you need to. We are always here for you.

What to expect when you lose a baby

Do you remember reading “What to expect when you are expecting?” while pregnant? I remember reading them so closely and yet I always skipped two sections of the book-miscarriage and when things go wrong. I don’t know why I did it- maybe it was because I didn’t want to freak myself out or maybe it was because I didn’t want to know or even think about it. I didn’t read those sections until I began to lose Olie.

Here I was almost two years ago searching for all of the answers as to what caused the miscarriage and what would happen to my body over the next week or so. Little did I know at the time but I would go on to have a miscarriage that lasted for months off and on. I had memorized that book so many times and I knew the exact sections that I needed to read. So I read it and at the end of it, I was still completely puzzled about what my miscarriage would actually look like. Snuggled in the sections about how beautifully your baby is growing and what type of fruit it is, is a really small section that has no real answers on miscarriage.

Like society today, it is tucked away and you really have to search for it to find it. It’s like the friends and family you have known a lifetime, but just find out they had a loss too when you lose your baby. It is something that most pregnant people don’t want to talk about or think about. I know because I was one of them.

So I have decided to write a quick manual on what to expect when you lose:

1. Your grief may be momentary or last a lifetime. Either way is your journey and you owe no explanation. Practice asking for what you need and want. Learn to say no too, like to the baby shower that you are dreading, but can’t say no to. Say no.

2. Your actual miscarriage will last a short time or months like mine did. It could be a d and c, delivery at home, delivery at the hospital, or delivery at a store like one of my girlfriends experienced. You may find yourself searching through the toilet to find your baby. You will pass blood clots the size of golf balls. If you are at the hospital, you will not be able to take the baby home. Take photos of the baby or get a close family member or friend to do so. I never took pictures of Olie and to this day it is my single biggest regret. It will be emotional and the hardest thing you probably will ever do. On this note, I would encourage your children to see the baby as well. We never let our boys look at Olie and I wish everyday that we had.

3. You will never forget how you felt when you delivered your baby silent and still. There are moments in your life that are brief snapshots which burn in your memory for life. This will be one of them. Although we took no pictures, I have the memories of holding him in my hand and burying him in our backyard forever in my mind.

4. Some people will support you during your loss and some will not. You will learn which ones do very quickly. Hang out with these people. They are the key to moving through the stages of grief. They will be there to support and love you. In the first year of survival especially, these are your people.

5. Society will try to tell you what is acceptable to say or not say, what to post or not post, and if you post too much sad stuff, they will tell you that you are depressing. Avoid these people at all cost. Sometimes, silence when they say something is really the best thing.

6. People will say the wrong and right things to you. This mostly comes from people who have never experienced loss, however I will warn you there are people out there who have experienced loss and are insensitive still. I don’t really get it either.

7. After a period of time, people will stop asking you about your baby unless you bring it up. Bring up your loss when you want to. Celebrate and honor your baby if you want to. Name your baby if you want to even if you didn’t know their gender. It has helped me so much to give Olie a name. It personified him and helps him from being abstract to a real human being.

8. Your baby will need to be buried. Find out from your doctor what the state and national laws are and then go from there. If you have the option to bury the baby where you would like to, choose something sturdy and long lasting. We chose an evergreen tree, which died and we had to purchase another tree. It was heartbreaking to have bury Olie twice. Choose something that will bring you joy when you look at it.

9. For the first few years at least, you may not sleep, eat, exercise, or take care of yourself the way you deserve. Give yourself the grace and patience to do what you can. You may be in survival mode and all you can do is wake up in the morning. Do that and then build on that as you can.

10. Heaven is for real. My most burning question when I lost Olie was “Did he go to Heaven?” By the time, we lost Olie he had already passed away and he had not been baptized. I was worried sick because I had always learned as a Catholic that he would go to purgatory because he had not been baptized. When I reached out to our priest, he was not comforting to say the least. Finally, I found a nun who told me he had gone to Heaven of course. This nun will never know the peace that she gave me that day, but it restored my faith in large part because of her. If you believe in Heaven, then I will tell you, your baby is there along with my Olie, baptized or not, because we have a just and merciful God.

Thinking of all of our families who are just beginning this journey. It may well be the longest and most eye opening journey of your life. Take care of yourself and know we are right there beside you all of the way.

Validation and honor

There has been a lot of news lately about loss. Barbara Bush died this week and the prominent theme in all of my social media accounts was her daughter, Robin. Then came Nebraskas’ monumental legislature that will now offer certificates of life for miscarried babies.

It got me thinking about what families really want when they lose. This is a question that I have researched and been looking for answers for throughout my two year journey. Every family is so different, every journey, even the medical care and support they receive. Of course the obvious answer is that they want their baby or child back. However, this is something that we unfortunately can not grant. Though, almost every second of my day wishes that we could do that.

I have thought about the support, the packages, the keepsakes. It has become blatantly apparent to me in my journey that the packages and keepsakes are lovely, but what families really want is validation of their feelings and honor of their babies and children. Families want to know that how they are feeling is normal and part of the journey of loss. Families want to know that they have a right to grieve and for however long they need to. Families want to know they can talk about their babies and children without the weird side eye glance.

The Nebraska legislature passed today on a historic piece of law. The law is LB 1040 and truly when you boil it all down, it is just a piece of paper. For families that I speak to on a regular basis though, this piece of paper represents so much more. It represents a life that was gone too soon. It represents that the tears, grief, and sadness has a purpose. It validates our feelings and memories of what was and what could have been. It tells others that baby loss is real and the journey is a lifetime. It represents our dreams, hopes, and our lifetime battle and balance between the life we have here on Earth and the baby that lives in our hearts.

It also brings to the forefront of our country how far we have to go. I celebrate this momentous piece of law, and I find myself asking why not in every state? Why is it controversial that a baby’s life be celebrated and honored?

For our families

For our families that have lost a baby or child, we seek to support you where you are on your journey. Some of the packages that we currently send out to our families include:

1. Keepsakes- for the family that has lost a baby or child.

2. Rainbow loss package- for the family that has lost their rainbow baby.

3. Rainbow package-for the family that is TTC, is pregnant, or has a rainbow.

4. Foster care after loss package- for the family that has lost a baby or child and is actively involved in foster care.

In addition, we reach out to families regularly to check in with them and see how they are doing. We also provide monthly programming services on social media, such as actsOFLove, remembrance valentines, and self care and wellness. Here is where you can find us:

Facebook- Olie’s Footprints families

Twitter-@oliesfootprints

Instagram-Olie’s Footprints

Finally, we seek to support our grieving families in Northeast Ohio by providing events, such as Light the Lake, a candlelight vigil in remembrance of our babies and children.

We seek to serve and support as many families as possible. In order to do so, we need support from families all over the world. Please consider joining us and supporting our families by donating today…

https://www.paypal.com/us/fundraiser/charity/2474034

Thank you for all of your support!

Don’t be afraid of the dark

I remember like it was yesterday when I lost Olie. It is crazy to think that it has almost been two years now next month. Among the hundreds of conversations I had after the immediate loss of Olie, there was one that I will never forget and that changed my journey. It was a conversation with my sister, Rachel.

Rachel is two years younger than me and like most sisters we are very much alike and different. Rachel is a bit of a free spirit whereas I am mostly guarded and reserved. Rachel will talk to anyone and everyone. I am much more of an introvert. The characteristic that I appreciate most about my sister and that I have learned from her is to meet a person where they are.

It was just a few weeks after I lost Olie and she called. Rachel was really good about calling me just about everyday and I would just cry and mumble and talk about Olie. For me, life was just standing still. The very few days that Rachel didn’t call I honestly think she just needed a break from all of the sadness. I really couldn’t blame her. I needed a break from the sadness too.

During this particular conversation she told that I needed to go towards the darkness. I replied “I can’t go there because if I do I’m not sure I will ever come out of it.” I honestly at the time was terrified of the darkness. I was terrified of the darkness and getting stuck. I wanted to process my grief and move through the stages like all of the textbooks said I should. Little did I know at the time that grief is different from darkness. The journey of grief are the good and bad days. Good and bad moments. The darkness is just dark all of the time.

She told me that if I went towards the darkness and stayed there for too long she would come and get me. She told me that in order to begin to grieve and heal I had to go towards the darkness and stay there for a while.

The next few days I thought about it-a lot. I decided to take a gamble and trust my sister. I was not moving though grief anyway. I was stuck and I didn’t even know it. If anyone could help pull me out of the darkness, she would be the person. Over the next few weeks and months, I went towards the darkness and I found it awful and dark. I began to truly grieve and cry. I began to see movement through the darkness. I spent a lot of time taking care of myself and giving myself grace to process this enormous loss in our family. Slowly but surely, I began to read stories to my children without crying halfway through the book. I talked to my husband about how he felt about the loss of Olie. I began to not fear the darkness and developed a sense that I could in fact rescue myself from it when I chose to. Darkness is not pretty. Darkness is a lot of ugly cries and sleepless nights. Still, I held on to the fact that Rachel would be there if I needed her.

The simple fact that I knew I had my sister to walk with me and pull me out of the darkness if I needed her was all it took for me to have the courage to go to a place that was terrifying. It began my journey to walk with families through their journeys side by side. It truly began the first little hints of Olie’s Footprints. It empowered me to feel that Olie could make a positive difference for others.

So, if you need someone to walk by you now and help you back from the darkness when you need it, reach out to a trusted family member or friend and ask them. Choose someone that you know won’t be afraid to tell you that you’ve been in the darkness for too long or that you may need to go talk to someone. Choose someone who knows and loves you.

The darkness is the all encompassing, cry every moment, can’t get up in the morning, can’t sleep every night, and initial processing of loss. In other words, the initial stage of loss. The darkness and the journey of grief are completely different and anyone who has been to the darkness can attest to that. I can’t tell you that this is for everyone. This is my journey, but knowing that my sister was there and would walk with me though the darkness was all it took for me to be willing to try and that has made all of the difference in my journey.

Don’t be afraid of the dark. It too serves its purpose on the journey.