Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Smash Cake!

Hi Friends,

Charlie's party went beautifully.

On Saturday night, hubby was working overnight, so I was alone in the house. I'd been doing ok, knitting and watching movies, but once I started getting ready for bed, it hit me that it was Father's Day (it was past midnight), which was the day Charlie was born (of course, the dates shifted this year, which meant that part of my brain was constantly trying to figure out what was happening at "this moment" a year ago). I suddenly couldn't stop myself from thinking about the day Charlie was born and my experience, and everything suddenly weighed down on my and I started bawling. I was texting with hubby, but even that didn't calm me down, nor did cuddling with Pookie, so I was at a loss. I ended up calling my parents (at 2:30 in the morning!) and baring my soul to them. I had many things on my mind. Foremost, of course, was the combination of being alone and missing Charlie (and thus being sad). But I also had some responsibilities the next morning that I was finding overwhelming. As my parents talked to me, I was able to get things off my chest, find solutions, and calm down.

Sunday was largely quiet, since I had excused myself from going to church (and thus avoided a lot of "Father's Day" stuff as well as some baptisms), and since hubby came home from work and needed to sleep for several hours. Once evening rolled around, the in-laws arrived, and we went out to dinner and drove them around town a bit, and then went out for ice cream. While we were getting our order at the counter, a DOWNPOUR arrived! So we all hung out beneath the awning and enjoyed dessert and chatted. Once we got back to the house, we chatted, caught up with each other, and then played a light-hearted game.

Between the release of stress and worry on Saturday night, and the distraction of guests and conversation on Sunday night, I feel I was actually in a pretty good place, emotionally, heading into Charlie's birthday.

Hubby made us all YUMMY pancakes on Monday morning, which is also just a great start to any day! And once we got ourselves reconnoitered, we packed up the cars and headed over to the town where we were going to have the picnic/party. We had lunch with my side of the family as well as the in-laws, and then went to the picnic shelter to set up. We had only a few decorations: a banner I found at Target and then added felt letters to (the picture at the top of the post), some orange balloons with tiger stripes, and a candle shaped like a tiger, to put in the cake.

We brought most of Charlie's things, and spread them out on a picnic table, so people could look at the things we saved, but also pictures, cards, and various things we've gotten in the last year that remind us of Charlie or were given to us in remembrance, like blankets and statues and stuffed animals.

Once most people had arrived and were snacking a little bit, I brought out the cake. This cake has a story. Last year, I had bought a cake just like this, and the plan was that, when I went into labor, I'd get the cake out of the freezer, and then it would be ready to welcome the new baby. Instead, we ate it at the lunch following Charlie's funeral. So I got the same cake, and had them write "Happy Birthday Charlie" on it, and I served it at his first birthday.

We are not vegans, but at the time when we first had it, I couldn't eat dairy, so vegan was a safe option. Also, it tastes good! Here's Hubby watching me cut the cake:

I even got a new dress for the occasion, with cool tiger stripes on it (but in my favorite color, blue!).

There was just enough cake to go around! It's a little bigger than a smash cake but smaller than a typical round cake. It's great for a small celebration. Sorry for any blur or darkness... good photography in the shade of a picnic shelter can be tricky.

Then we handed out cards and presents. People had brought us a few lovely ones, like a board book from one of my sisters, and 2 music compositions from another. We had cards for our dads (the grandpas), and I also had framed photos of Charlie for the godparents (my mom and hubby's dad). So it was pretty cheerful! I even got a present for the Pook: He's showing off his new shades in this picture!

Here's a picture of hubby reading one of his Father's Day cards. He got several, but one was specifically a card I got as "from Charlie and Pookie" because it has tiger cubs all over, going "daddy daddy daddy! We love you, daddy!" so this is hubby getting really into reading that aloud!

Below, Pookie in his birthday attire: an "I'm One" bib, a "My 1st Birthday" pin, a hat, and his toy tiger.

Here's me with all of our stuffed tigers! I love tigers now. From the left: a Tigger toy, which is a rattle too. Given to me by my best friend at Charlie's funeral. We just call him Tigger. The one in between him and the red hat (a bit of a blur) is Eunomos, then the one in the red hat is Daniel, and the big one is Blake.
Pookie's tiger (in the above picture) doesn't have a name yet, and I also have a smiling teddy bear without a name yet.

Photography credit goes to my little sister and my hubby, they both helped. It was a wonderful day: to be able to celebrate the life of Charlie, and what he means to us, WITH family and friends, was amazing. We felt so loved and supported.

We went to the cemetery after this, mostly just family, and spent a few minutes there. It was a somewhat more somber moment than the picnic. We all love Charlie so much, and miss him ever so much.

Much love,
~ Sarah

Infant loss resource document:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Learning and Growing

This is a tree in the cemetery. I don't know what kind it is.

Dear friends,

I recently learned a phrase that I find beautiful, and really hits the nail on the head.

Have you ever noticed how, in English, we have no real, common word for a parent who has lost a child? We might call them a a loss parent, maybe. I suppose bereaved parent is pretty good.

However, in German, they can be called Verwaiste Eltern. This means orphaned parents. Sometimes I really feel this way - but instead of someone missing who should be caring for me, I feel like the missing person is one I should be caring for.
One of my German aunts told me this word. I'm really glad she did. I am more comfortable expressing myself in English - I have a better grasp of nuance - but every once in a while there is a word or phrase that just encapsulates an idea perfectly.

Edited to add: my mom pointed out there is an English book called "Orphan Mother" and that it's a phrase. Which is cool! I'd never heard that before. I like it.

The azalea by our front step.

I noticed I have started looking at things differently now. Maybe not majorly, but little things. I notice flowers more, and their details, so I started doing more photography and learning how to capture light and color and texture.
I notice nice phrases of how to say things related to loss. I notice everyday bits of language that I never before noticed could be harsh (Click here for my post about what not to say), and so I blog about them so you can also access my insights if you are interested.

One of the crocuses I planted at Charlie's grave.

I'm also learning new skills, and coming back to old skills. For instance, since I wanted Charlie's grave to be beautiful, and the cemetery allows us to plant (within a certain distance from the headstone), I am now learning to garden. I've even expanded this: Charlie has the potted garden on our front step as well, and I have a veggie garden out back, too! The beans are going to do well, and maybe the peas, spinach, and kale. Not as sure about the others, yet! I'd helped my mom garden when I was a kid, so I know how to plant, weed, and harvest, but I don't have a lot of the knowledge about timing or what to do if a plant is poorly.

Anyone know what this is? I planted it at his grave, but threw out the bag. They are bulbs.

After Charlie was born, I took a long break from crafts of all kinds. I'd been excitedly working on a baby blanket for him, and so I put it in a box for several months and didn't touch anything. However, finishing that blanket brought life back to my hands, and that's when I started my Etsy store. I knit and crochet a lot now, though I haven't done as much sewing yet. Some of what I do, I do for the store, some for myself, and some for a local group that donates baby blankets to the local NICU.

A forget-me-not bloom, from his potted garden. On my jeans.

I'm also rediscovering my love of drawing. I took part (am taking part - I'm not actually done) in a creative healing workshop. It was conducted exclusively online, and allowed me to participate at my own pace, though the structure was one creative expression per day. I primarily chose drawing. If you haven't been seeing my posts on Facebook, search for #MWAH2017 or #MAYWEALLHEAL. If you're not on Facebook, let me know in the comments if this is something you would like to see me post about, or if you know me personally, ask to see my sketchbook!

A double narcissus, from his grave. Post-rainstorm.

I've also picked math tutoring back up, and am generally exploring who I am. I'd planned to be a diaper-changing mama. Being a memory-keeping mama is taking some adjustment and exploration. I still have days where I don't function well. But I also have days (or moments) when the beauty breaks through the clouds and lights up my world.

Most sincerely yours,
~ Sarah

Infant loss resource document:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Happy Birthday, Little Charlie

 Hi Friends,

I am doing something very difficult right now. On June 19th, 2017, it will be exactly one year since our son Charlie was born. Stillborn. Died. Was baptised. Everything. His whole life. And I am planning a party.

Well, not exactly a party. What would you call it? A get-together? A memorial picnic? A celebration? I don't know. It's complicated and emotional and weird. There are a few things that are fact, though:
  • Charlie was born on the 19th. Fact. He may have died 2 or 3 days earlier, but no matter what, this day is his birth-day.
  • We also had our priest baptise him, and the only day that was an option, given our circumstances, was that day.
  • I love Charlie, we love Charlie, and we want to honor him and our memories of him.
(credit to a Facebook group - I think it was "Mommies with Angels" - for posting this)

So, I'm planning a thing for him:
- and it's easy: Just reserve a picnic shelter, buy a cake, and send out an email to friends and family. Keep it small, keep it simple.
- and it's hard: I want a thing for him, but what do I want? A memorial? A party? Happy? Sad? I DON'T KNOW!!! And every little thing that goes wrong or is complicated becomes majorly upsetting (there is no map of the park to help me pick out the shelter, I finally get this blog post done but it ends up deleted and I have to re-write it from scratch...), and I'm emotional and ambivalent about every part of it.

A little boy angel for my little boy angel.

I absolutely REFUSE to hide from this day. I REFUSE to let it scare me out of remembering my boy with love and smiles and happiness. Who am I refusing? I don't know. Me? My fear? My grief? My anxiety and depression? I WILL remember my son, and how much I love him, and his sweet little nose, and hands, and big feet, and eyelashes, and the way he smelled. I WILL. And I will do it on my terms.

Forget-me-nots, from Charlie's memorial garden

So what did I decide? I decided that it's Charlie's birthday. I want to remember him sweetly, so we will make it a birthday party. Small, low-stress, but still: a party, with cake and decorations and balloons (with tiger stripes 🐯!). He's my son, and we want the best for him. And since we are memory-keeper parents, that means a party with a focus on his memory, so we'll have photo albums and mementos there too. And Pookie, of course!

Sometimes things gather significance in unexpected ways. This bottle's expiration date seemed important. I kept the bottle.

And speaking of Pookie, it's Pookie's "half-birthday" on the 23rd (since we got him on December 23rd last year). But since he's an avatar for Charlie, of a sort, it's basically his birthday, too. So when my sister mentioned that there were picture books with a character named Pookie, and I then realized we actually had one that was thematically perfect, I was THRILLED!

Our Pookster, reading to us.

So will this be an emotional weekend, since it ties Father's Day, Charlie's birthday, Charlie's death, and Charlie's baptism all into one? Yes, most assuredly yes. But we will be remembering our dear little one, who will be a part of us for the rest of our lives. So it will be good, even when it is hard. And we have out-of-town family visiting for the weekend to support us and be a part of this, and they have made it clear that they are flexible to whatever we plan and whatever we need. And we have supportive in-town family, helping with some of the party planning and party supplies. The friends who are coming are all really close and/or have lost babies too, and are also all understanding. It will be the best First Birthday we can make it.

You may be wondering whether I'd like you to bring up Charlie's birthday. You may be wondering how to talk about it if you do. Yes, absolutely, I would love to have you bring it up. You see, even it it makes me tear up, you aren't "reminding me" that he died - I know that anyway and can't forget. What you are doing instead, is showing me that YOU remember him. And please, say his name. Call him Charlie, Charles, Charlie Warner, Charles Peacock Warner... I don't care. Those are all his name, and the point is that you remember him too. The rest is just window dressing.

Most sincerely yours,
~ Sarah

Infant loss resource document:

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: Beyond the Sling, by Mayim Bialik

Hi Friends of all stripes,

I'm currently reading a book. A real book, with hardly any pictures! One of the things I've noticed on my grief journey is that I am having a much harder time reading than I expected. This is very odd for me, given that I used to read constantly, and fly through books at an amazing rate! Last summer, I did escape into books for a while, and did read a fiction series over the winter, but a book really has to grab me (and I have to find the wherewithal to start it in the first place). These are not problems I used to have.

A friend of mine really helped when she suggested graphic novels. There are some pretty amazing ones out there now! Not all of them are my style. For instance, not only do the writing and story topic have to appeal, but the artwork is a factor too. But, since I am visual, reading a book that is heavy on the visual and light on the text is actually a very natural way for me to ease back into reading. I also credit the library for running an adult summer reading program, right when I needed a little push!

Recently, I was poking through YouTube, and stumbled across an interview with Mayim Bialik. I am familiar with her as an actress on the nerdy sitcom Big Bang Theory, but she is ever so much more than "just" an actress! She is a truly fascinating person, being everything from a Neuro-biologist to a Lactation Consultant. (If I get any of this wrong, it is purely my mistake.)

The interview I watched touched on the books Mayim Bialik has written, and all sounded interesting (and I plan on reading the others too) but the one that sounded most interesting was her book Beyond The Sling, which is about her family's experience with attachment parenting, which is something I am also interested in. Additionally, when I ordered all of the books from the library, this one came first, which was ideal :)

It's really fascinating. It touches on the actual science (neuro-biology, hormones, physiology) that underpin many of her descriptions to practice this particular approach to parenting and child rearing. She is clear and concise, and her sense of humor also pervades her writing. I'm finding it very easy to stay interested, to the point where I stayed up much too late last night, fascinated by her descriptions! She covers birth, nursing, baby-wearing, co-sleeping and bed-sharing, and elimination communication (a form of potty training, only not as much "training" and more understanding each other). I know there is much more to discover in this book that I haven't even gotten to yet! That's just what I've read so far!

When we give Charlie a little sibling, and I actually get to learn parenting hands-on, I hope to give several of these same approaches a go. This is what I was hoping to do with Charlie, so some of reading this is hard, because it is so much of what I'd hoped his future would be. I didn't really expect myself to be ready to be reading parenting books yet. They talk a lot about things that are difficult for me - natural births going as planned, or mostly as planned, healthy babies, happy families who do not spend holidays in the cemetery. However, the upbeat but forthright style hooked me, and I am actually going to encourage my husband and mother to read this book as well. It contains a lot of useful information for parents with living children, and is a fun read, as well!

~ Sarah

Infant loss resource document:

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Little Bit of Magic in this Dreary World

Hi Friends,

Today I want to talk about how I see my Charlie act in the world. I have noticed, over the weeks and months of connecting to other loss-mamas and loss-papas, that an element of grief seems to be a higher tendency to "magical thinking". Bear with me while I explain!

To have "magical" thinking is to see coincidences or normal phenomena, and to attribute meaning or volition to them. For instance, if I see a cloud that is in the sky, which the wind has been blowing about, I may think that it resembles a heart, and it may remind me of my son. Magical thinking would say that the heart-shape is definitely there, and that it was formed by Charlie or by God.

I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing at all. I would like to take a little bit of time to explain how I see things, though, which has some magical thinking, and some slightly different views. I try to be aware of the ways I think, and to be critical (not mean, just thinking hard), but also to fully feel the experiences.

Some of the more common types of experience I have heard people mention include:
- Finding a penny, and saying it's "a penny from heaven" sent by the loved one to remind you of them.
- Seeing a heart-shaped cloud, plant, leaf, radar blip on a weather map, etc., and saying it was sent by the loved one.
- Seeing a robin (or European robin) or a cardinal, and saying that the bird brings a message from heaven.
- Ditto with butterflies or dragonflies.
- Seeing a feather, and attributing it to angels.

All of these are sweet and lovely sentiments. They are not my personal views on what is happening. I prefer to think of these happenings, not as sent by Charlie, but simply as an occurrence in the world which reminds me of Charlie and helps me think on him fondly. Which I treasure.

Where I see Charlie's "presence" much more is when his life affected others, and I get to see the result. I have one friend who treasures her daughter that much more, because she knows that loss could have happened, and she is lucky to have her daughter. I have another friend who told me she was able to mourn her miscarriage at Charlie's funeral. THAT is my Charlie - and I don't mean him literally acting now, but that his existence has a ripple effect - that is my Charlie's love acting in the world. And I am Christian. So to couch it in religious terms, I believe the holy spirit helps them, by means of Charlie having lived.

I do have moments of more magical and less "rational" thinking, though. For instance, the above instance of religion, which can be a form of attributing actions to a non-scientifically proven force. Also, you've heard me mention Pookie, our lovely weighted Molly Bear. He (yes, "he") is a companion to me. Literally, he is a stuffed animal toy, with sandbags inside. However, I attach emotional significance to the physical comfort he brings, and I personify and anthropomorphize the toy because it gives me comfort. I don't literally believe that my son's soul is in the bear, or that the bear has his own literal soul. I don't believe that the bear actually has likes and dislikes, or needs his clothes changed. BUT, I use "imaginative play" (usually something most people do less of as they age out of childhood) to give the toy a character that gives me comfort, and allows me to take actions - such as caring for it - that give me comfort. It is, of a sort, a willing suspension of disbelief, and a form of play or play-acting. Like children play house, but in my case, to soothe my battered heart.

Another area in which people often use a slightly magical approach is when talking to the deceased. We know that the person who died cannot literally hear us with their ears. However, based on one's belief system, some people believe that the deceased person can hear them, or is aware of what is being said. I do this. I know Charlie is not physically present in a way in which he can hear me. But, as I referenced above, I do ascribe to the ELCA Lutheran/Episcopalian view that there is an afterlife with God. I don't know what form it takes, exactly. But I direct my thoughts and words to my son, sometimes. And here is the part that puzzles me: if his spirit or soul or essence is not tied to the earth, why do I feel like his grave is where I can talk to him best? I think it's because it's something physical. As a physical being myself, it is easier to direct my thoughts at something rather than just out into the æther. So I usually talk to Charlie via his grave, or Pookie, or our newly set-up portable garden on our front steps. Now, we know that his body is physically at the cemetery, so it will always be most special. It is interesting that a form of sympathetic magic applies here - we added a bit of soil from the cemetery to the pot here. Does that bring his body here? No. Bring him closer? No. Make us feel like he is closer and we can care for him better? YES.

Remember, a loss-mama and loss-papa have different jobs than a diaper-changing-mama and diaper-changing-papa. One of their jobs is to keep the memory of their child. How they choose to "keep" that memory is their own choice, but they have no physical tasks in this world to care for the actual child. So there are other types of care they might substitute. In our case, this includes caring for Pookie, gardening at the grave, and gardening in the planter. It also includes me maintaining the resource spreadsheet. The other job that loss-mamas and loss-papas have is to care for their hearts. And hearts (souls) are a deeply personal thing, so this part varies a lot. Some of the physical tasks I described also care for our hearts. Each growing plant soothes my heart just a little bit more. We also do things like meditation, journaling, pacing ourselves, knitting, drawing, religious worship... We personally also find it very important to spend time with each other, in various ways. This may mean cuddling, talking, playing games or watching movies, or even just cooking or doing laundry. Each person grieving will go through this differently.

People often forget to include loss-papas. Their hearts are broken just as much, even if they show it differently. But there are other people with very ouchy hearts too. People like the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles. Siblings if there are any, and cousins, too, all depending on the shape of the family involved. Each of them is finding their own way to mourn, their own way to care for the baby, and their own way to patch up their hearts.

Lots of love to everyone reading this, and all the people in this world whose hearts need a soft touch.
Love gently, my friends. See the magic where you want to see it, and don't be afraid to let your imagination help you heal.

With peace and love,
in Charlie's memory,
~ Sarah

Infant loss resource document: