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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The impact of one

It has taken me a while to write this post as I have honestly searched for the right words to articulate what I wanted to say and processed the meaning behind the meeting. I have found the words and I wanted to share them tonight.

As I shook his hand and Introduced myself, I was really nervous. I had already arrived a few moments late to the meeting because I had gone to the wrong place, but in meeting him, I just had a feeling that this meeting would be one of those moments in my life that I would never forget.

He seemed like an ordinary man who had a lifetime of experiences and a life well lived. If you saw him on the street you would never know that he had too experienced loss. You would never have actually guessed there was anything so heartbreaking that could have occurred in his life at all. He spoke very little as a girlfriend of mine and I chatted about our children and the day to day trials and experiences of being a Mom. He just listened patiently, but with a very quiet and calm demeanor as if he was on a mission.

I knew nothing about this gentleman and his family going into this meeting. I just knew we were going to meet. I had brought all of my keepsakes and packages so I could show him what we were doing for other families in memory of our Olie. I wanted to make sure that I was professional and really spoke to our mission of how we help and support our families. I wanted him to know that our Olie was making a difference.

As we sat down, he reached for an envelope and gave it to me. I said thank you and he told me to open it. Inside of this envelope was his story and he asked me to read it. I made it two sentences into the story and I began to sob. I could not help it. I cried and cried and really could not articulate any of my well meaning speech that I had prepared in my mind. None of it really mattered anyway. Out of respect for the family, I will not share what exactly was written in this letter but I will say that the letter has never left my envelope and goes with me everywhere I go before events to support our family. I read the letter privately before I go speak to families and every time we have an event. It has had a profound effect on how I approach families and how I support them. It has reminded me that although we are a nonprofit and business, we are really in the business of supporting and helping our families. We exist solely to remember and honor their babies and children because they matter to our families and to us as an organization.

When I began Olie’s Footprints, I thought that Olie would impact a few family’s lives and help support a few families. I had no idea of how much the families that we support would impact me and my journey. I was blind that in remembering and honoring other little angels, we would begin to heal too. I never imagined the ups and downs that would be part of our life and the constant tugging between two worlds that still has not been rectified. It never occurred to me that in sharing stories, we would cry with other families and rode the roller coaster of life with them. When a family lost a baby or delivered a healthy baby after, we would be there to support, love, and hug them all the way through it. Through many adoptions, we would be there to cry through all of the paperwork and listen to frustrations. In fertility treatments, we would encourage our families through every painful shot and pill they would take. Each and every journey, each and every angel that we would remember and celebrate.

I write this tonight because I want the family to know that the impact that their son has made on our journey and our family’s ability to help support other families who are on this journey with us will never be forgotten. In the end, he reminded me of the impact of one. One family. One angel. One son gone way too soon.

No matter the projects, events, keepsakes, programs, and packages that we create, it really comes down to one thing-our Angels have left their mark on this world. They have and will continue to impact our lives and the decisions that we make. They have left this world a more loving, caring, kind, and peaceful place to live. Some days it seems we struggle to even breathe through the day let alone accomplish anything profound. Some days we are on the highest mountain and nothing can stop us.

Each little life has changed the way we live, work, breathe, and exist in this world. Thank you for reminding me of the impact that one precious soul can make on this world. It is a lesson that I will forever cherish and a good reminder that one life can make a meaningful difference to thousands of others.

A letter to the new loss Mom

Guest Writer: Kayla Webster

The world is cold and dark and scary now. There isn’t much that seems to make sense anymore. You feel like the entire weight of the world is crushing you and you have to really focus on taking breaths. Something that used to come so naturally is more like deliberate work. Who knew breathing could be so painful and take so much of your energy? It takes all you have just to do that simple task. You have to do it though because if you don’t then no one will remember your baby. Not the way you do.

You walk around with this dazed look on your face and you feel invisible but I see you. I know that look. It’s my look. You think no one can see the pure agony that you’re in and it makes you want to scream “My baby died” as loud as you can but your painful screams stay silent and in your head. I hear them and I see your agony. Its my agony too.

When you’re baby died you were forced into a club with the rest of us. You don’t want to be in this club, you didn’t ask for it and you want to end your membership and have your membership fee refunded. Trust me mama so do I. The price was way to high and it wasn’t one any of us were willing to pay but here we all are.

We know that you’ll roll your eyes at us and our advice on surviving this thing because how in the hell is surviving even possible? You think we’re all nuts and that’s ok because when we first came in we thought that those before us had lost their minds too. You’ll come around to us eventually it just takes time and that’s ok because we understand and we have nothing but love and compassion for you. Our hearts break with yours. We cry with and for you.

We just want you to know that when you’re ready we are here and waiting with open arms. You don’t have to suffer alone. We’ll help you carry the weight, we’ll hold your hand when you stumble, We’ll cheer you on when you start to feel like you’re ready to come out the other side of this and most importantly we’ll help you remember your baby. We’ll say your babies name loud and with pride with you.

Thank you to our guest writer,Kayla Webster, for sharing her thoughts on grief. ❤️❤️

If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the last 2 years since losing my daughter Its that grief is not linear. It bounces all over the place with no sign or warning what’s next. There is no timeline and there is no manual. There comes a point in this journey when people get the idea that those things exist. You start hearing things like “Its been x amount of time you need to move on” or “he/she wouldn’t want you to still be stuck” well to be brutally honest I’m sure they couldn’t pick a kid of their own to live without and I’m positive that she didn’t wanna die but she did so here we are. There will never come a point in time where losing a child under any circumstances will be “ok” it’s not something that you get used to. you just learn to live with it because there is no other choice. With all that being said after 2 years of crying so hard I suddenly burst into laughter and 2 years of intense anger and extreme depression I’m telling you that it’s ok to not be ok, it’s ok to take as much time as you need. Take the rest of your life. You’re walking around without a piece of yourself and that makes you an epic mom. You’ve survived this long, forever is an awfully long time to go missing such a huge piece of yourself so say whats on your mind, say your babies name, scream it even! So what if it makes someone else uncomfortable. We live in this uncomfortable reality every day so I’m inclined to believe that they’ll be ok. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your pain. The problem lies with the people that close off and diminish that pain. I can go all day long perfectly “ok” and suddenly the weight of her death hits me like a ton of bricks. You know what though? Call me crazy if you must but even if I knew then what I know now I still would have chosen her over another baby that lived. I would rather feel all this horrible soul crushing pain than to have never loved her at all. Its said that Where there is great pain there is even greater love and that love is beautiful.

I am still here

Guest writer: Miracle Layman

Thank you Miracle for sharing with all of us your sweet and precious Draven. We are posting this tonight on the night he became an angel in hopes of giving other families some comfort and peace. We sincerely thank you Miracle for being so open and honest about the struggle of loss. We are thinking and praying for your sweet Draven tonight and celebrating your sweet Irys right there with you. ❤️

March 23rd, 2017 was the happiest day of my life, and the first of what I thought would be the happiest days of the rest of my life. I had finally given birth to my son Draven, and I was a mom after ten years of inability to have children. June 14th, 2017 at 11:31 PM was the worst moment of my life. I lost the little boy I had waited so long for so quickly. We got 2 months and 22 days of blissful joy, followed by a year to date tomorrow of hell. I’m writing this a day before the first year anniversary of the loss of Draven because I honestly don’t think I can do it tomorrow.

Draven passed away nine days before he was 3 months old and four days before Ray’s first father’s day. His funeral was the day after father’s day, and his memorial service was on what should have been his 3 month mini-birthday. How life twists our expectations and plans to such a terrible degree is beyond understanding. Our holidays thereafter have been what appears to be normal, barely disguising a train wreck. But somehow we have made it through all this time, even though I remember right after not even caring if I woke up the next day. The next day turned into the next, and days we thought we’d never make it through turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. And all these months have turned into a year. Sigh. But somehow we are still here.

I think it is safe to say it hurts a lot more now than it did at first. The shock just won’t allow you to feel. Not deeply. Not anything real. I still have moments where I question my sanity; I wonder if I actually did have Draven and if he was ever really my child. I think maybe I’ve watched all this unfold through the eyes of someone else and just felt all their pain because life can’t hurt this badly. It can, and it does. But we’re still here. I don’t pretend to know or understand why. I don’t think I will until I am reunited with my little boy. I am able to see good things that have happened and continue to happen in spite of our loss, and I am grateful that we have been given the strength and faith and hope needed to get this far. We will need a lot more, I am sure, but God willing we will make it.

So here I am, dreading the next 24 hours because of what it signifies once it is over. A life cut entirely too short that meant more to me than my own. A life I couldn’t save, though I tried with all my soul. And I am still here. I have grown in patience, compassion, empathy, and understanding. I have also faltered in sensitivity, anxiety, flashbacks, and sadness. Grief gives you gifts and curses, though I think the gifts are more bountiful in spite of it all.

Speaking of gifts, I found out six weeks after losing our son that I was pregnant again, and today I am somewhat overprotectively holding my 2 month old daughter Irys. 2 months. To say I am terrified is an understatement. I think I will let out a secretly long held in breath after July 1st, when she will be 2 months and 23 days old. And my heart will also break knowing she is a day older than Draven ever got to be. And then I’m sure I’ll feel guilty. The ever-revolving cycle of loss parents-happiness turns into guilt, guilt turns into more guilt. You don’t really get a break. Not yet anyway. I don’t know if we would have been blessed with Irys if Draven had lived. Those kinds of things are too big and weird and possibly hurtful for me to focus on very long. I do know I am grateful every day for her life. She has brought back a lot of mine. Without the promise of her life ahead of me, I don’t know if I would have made it through everything we have been through since losing Draven. She makes me honestly smile, no faking it. She makes me laugh now every day because she has so much personality coming out. I realize every moment how blessed she has made me, and how precious she really is because I know how real life can be. I know it can all be lost in a matter of minutes. And I pray every day God won’t let life be that cruel a second time.

Life hurts a lot right now, and I’m sure it will for a while longer. But good things keep happening, and life goes on around us and within us. I make mistakes and get too upset and second guess everything and trust so little sometimes, but I am trying to make the best of it as best I can. I know Draven wants to see my smile. He loved it so much while he was here with us. One thing I told my dad right after we lost him was, “I can’t believe he’ll never grow up and fall in love. He deserved to fall in love.” And my dad, not missing a beat, replied, “But he did fall in love. He fell in love with you.” And that love hasn’t and won’t ever stop. Not for him, and not for me. I see him so much in his sister, and she will know all about him as she gets older. He may not be physically alive anymore, but the whole world will know his name and his life and our story. He lives on in and through me. I am still here.”

Imagine

Thank you to Kayla Webster for writing this beautiful piece about her dear daughter Savannah.  We are inspired by her words and hope that other families are impacted by her story.

Guest Writer: Kayla Webster

Imagine a love so strong that it’s the reason for your very existence. Imagine this love being the force behind why you do everything that you do. Its why you breath, why you make the decisions that you make, why you are who you are. Now rip it away. You can’t breath, can’t think, you’ve lost yourself. What is this horrible situation I just threw you in? Its stillbirth. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a loss yet I’m willing to bet that unless loss has touched your life that you have no idea why I wear a pink and blue ribbon or light a candle every year at 7 pm on October 15. This world becomes a dark and scary place full of doubt after a loss like this.
You aren’t alone. All of those questions raging in your mind? I asked them too. Please know that you aren’t alone. I see your pain and whether it’s been 6 minutes or 6 years I acknowledge your pain and I validate your pain. I won’t tell you that it’s going to be ok because there’s nothing in this world that can make losing your baby ok. I will tell you that YOU will be ok. There will come a day that suddenly a peace enters your heart and you’ll sigh with the first breath that didn’t feel like a struggle. That moment is your baby taking your hand and urging you live again. Live mama just live! Live for your baby and live for you.
My daughter was stillborn at 37 weeks 2 days on April 26, 2016. She was 6 lbs 2 oz of complete perfection. Her name IS Savannah. I say is and not was because despite her death and despite the fact that she’s not in my arms she is still my child. She is real, she existed and she matters. She was wanted and prayed for and I am beyond privileged to say that she’s mine and I’m hers.

I have a dream

The late great MLK Jr. words that were instrumental to the civil rights movement. Four enormous words that changed history. And while I don’t even pretend to be able to be as eloquent in my writings as MLK Jr. I too have a dream.

I have a dream:

that compassion and kindness rule the world.

that “I’m so sorry for your loss” becomes the norm as a response for loss of a baby.

that every family member is recognized as a grieving member of the family.

that loss families receive the support and care that they deserve from the beginning of the loss till they don’t need it anymore.

that all loss will be accepted as loss and not defined by the number of days, months, or years of a baby or child’s life.

that support groups do not have to exist because it is acceptable for all families to share their babies and children both here and in our hearts wherever and whenever they want to.

that people start asking loss families how they can help and support them.

that each loss family can grieve and hope free from unsolicited advice, nosiness, gossip, and judgment.

that each loss family who needs additional help, support, or therapy can get it.

that no family has to go through the pain of burying their baby or child alone.

that IVF and other fertility advancements can become more of a reality for families who are struggling with infertility without the enormous costs.

that foster families can be known and recognized as the parents that they are to their dear children.

that we can celebrate our victories together and cry together when we need to

that “at least” is never part of any conversation of loss

that SIDS becomes a distant memory and no longer happens

that families can choose their own journey of grief and healing

that comparison doesn’t exist in loss

that blame does not show up in conversations of loss.

that families who have never experienced loss can empathize with families who have.

that loss families don’t have to worry about the cost of burying their baby or child and paying for a gravestone.

that Hope and healing can be a part of a loss family’s journey.

that all families of loss feel heard and validated.

that the topic of baby and child loss becomes normalized and opens up conversations that are long overdue.

that every parent receives a birth and death certificate for the baby that they lost

that this post becomes irrevelant and outdated because of the enormous gains that we make as a community.

that the loss community comes together and realizes the power that we have to change the conversation.

that we make our babies and children proud-of the actions we take, of the conversations we have, of the changes we create.

We are the warriors. We are the survivors. We can make a difference in how someone else experiences loss. It will be a mountain, but we have climbed the tallest mountain possible before.

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.