Monday, August 17, 2015

Running dedication - Quinn

Running after stillbirth

20 miles for my sweet Quinn. 

20 miles is really far to run.  I woke up quite conflicted about the milestone.  If Quinn were here, I would definitely not be pursuing this goal of running a marathon, and how I would change history to make this the case.  However, facing each day with one daughter in my arms and the other in my heart is my reality.  I laced up my shoes and headed out the door for my 20-mile journey with Quinn.

The morning was bright, sunny, cool, and relatively low in humidity.  I ran through our local park first – this being my favorite because there is so much life in the wooded trail to experience while the rest of the world is still waking up.  I ran by the empty space where Quinn’s tree will go this fall and exited the park, rejoining society on my local streets.

As I approached my first hill, I fought each step of the incline with grit and might.  As my body was challenged with each foot pounding uphill, flashes of Quinn’s delivery shot in and out of my mind.  As the cool breeze brushed my cheeks, I felt Quinn’s chilled face and nose brush up against mine.  I gave a little groan as I pushed up the hill and my labor screams echoed in my ears.   The doctor’s face and words, “We have to get the baby out as soon as possible” ricocheted through my body like an old jumpy black and white movie.  I got to the top and found relief in some level ground.  I gave my head a shake and pushed the volume to my music louder to soften the haunting ringing of alarms that mark the night Quinn’s delivery. 

After making it through the first physical and mental battle, I settled into what I call the “sweet miles.”  These are the early middle miles that just pass by easily – for me, usually miles 5 to 13.  I carried Quinn through miles of town, through a watershed, and past a farm, which was bustling with activity and people.  These “sweet miles” culminated with a long slow uphill on a beautiful empty back road.  I saw countless butterflies and birds soaring freely through the air, and the cicadas were cheering us on the whole time.  I saw snakeskin, rabbits, and gorgeous late-blooming wildflowers. 

In these “sweet miles,” my mind was also peaceful.  I had endearing memories of my pregnancy with Quinn.  I relived the time when I was blissfully unaware of the nightmare that was to come.  The happy days when Josh and I read Riley big sister books and she squealed in delight when feeling her kick.  I remembered exactly how it felt to have Quinn’s bottom roll near my right ribcage.  I pushed a tear away remembering that at least once a day there is a moment when I have a feeling in my abdomen that reminds me of my pregnancy with Quinn.  “Is it her?”  I think for a split second, then my rational side snaps me out of it.  I think of the video I took of Josh when I told him I was pregnant with Quinn, making a mental note to watch it later that night. 

The last 7 miles were what I call my “strong miles.”  The pain started to set-in and I had to be strong – for myself, for Riley, for Quinn.  Up until now, my mind and body had a yin and yang fluidity where my body state was reflected in my mental state, and visa versa.  In this last stage of the run, however, strength trumps all.  I had to turn off my brain from the thinking and the feeling, and just get it done with my body.  I flipped on a screen in my brain that said, “My body is a machine,” and I ran through the remaining hard miles.  If I let myself think too much, my brain would outtalk my body, and I would fall out of the run. 

In running these final miles, I am truly present with Quinn.  I can’t think about the past I wish I had back or the future I’ll never have.  All I have is right now - my mind telling my body to run the hard miles with the Quinn I have now.  I feel her in my heart as she gives me the courage to live on.  I feel her in my eyes as she awakens me to the beauty around me.  I feel her in my legs giving me strength to conquer this physical battle.  I feel her in the breeze that brushes against my face and in the sun that illuminates my body. 

This run, which heals and processes the trauma of her arrival and preserves her memories in my heart, was for her.  It is a symbol of our story.  It is the only way I know how to move forward without her.  She fills me with love and strength as I not only conquer each mile on this run but as I conquer each day that lies ahead without her. 

Running for her, with her, because of her, and in memory of her.  

20 miles for sweet Quinn.

About run to heal:

I run to heal.  It’s where I learn to hold my grief in my heart as love.  It’s where I practice putting one foot in front of another.  It’s where I honor Quinn and other babies who are gone too soon from stillbirth, miscarriage, or neonatal death.  In preparation for my first Mother’s Day as a parent to both a living and dead child, I asked my friends and community to dedicate a workout to Quinn.  This was a powerful, soulful, and healing experience.  I felt lifted up and loved by the community.  I was humbled that so many people carried Quinn’s spirit with them.  I hope to accompany others on their journey after child loss and hold them and their son or daughter in my heart.  It is an opportunity for me to honor their child and learn their story.  Together, we will learn how to put one foot in front of the other and run to heal.  Dedicate a run here

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to live in the present after stillbirth

Being present after stillbirth

In Quinn's death, I have been re-birthed.  I approach every day differently and with much more meaning than I have had before.  Although very dark, my daily mantra is, "If I died tomorrow, am I happy with today?"  For example, am I happy with the amount of love I gave today?  With my relationship with Riley and Josh?  With family and friends?  There are certainly relationships I struggle with, but I try to have a consciousness that they are a gift in my life, even if we struggle.  Was I genuine today?  Did I appreciate today enough?  Did I treat today like a gift that some, like Quinn, aren't so lucky to experience?  Was I a good role model for Riley today?  How did I honor Quinn today?

Lessons from the books "Life Lessons," “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and my own journaling have helped bring me to a new consciousness about life and living in the present.  This has been healing for me because it helps me forgive myself for past actions that I question, especially when thinking about anything I could have done to prevent Quinn's stillbirth, and it helps ease my fears and anxieties, most of which live in the future.  

Here are ways I have learned to live in the present.  I hope they offer you some comfort and an escape from your pain as well.

After a loss, there is often a caution to loving again.  We are vulnerable – if we love again, won’t our hearts be broken once more?  However, love is courageous and is a risk worth taking.  Love gives our present meaning and wholeness, and transcends the past and future.

Create your “Ingredients for Joy and Meaning” (Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”)
Hands down, creating my "Ingredients for Joy and Meaning" has been one of the most helpful activities in finding the meaning of life after Quinn's stillbirth.  After Quinn died, I felt like I was walking around blindfolded inside a deep dark crater.  This list helped pull me out, and helped me find meaning for the life that lay ahead of me.  It was also incredibly helpful for my husband to come up with his own list, comparing them after.  It was eye opening to see how many things on the list aligned with each other.  For the couple items on our lists that differed, we were able to see what else the partner needed, which has strengthened our relationship.  We have our lists in a double-sided frame on the counter where we see them every day.  We honestly try to hit all Ingredients daily, and it has been incredibly healing.  

Express gratitude
People in our lives are a gift.  If we are lucky, we get to keep them our whole lives, but sometimes we are not so lucky.  Think of the people you are grateful for each day, and even better, tell them.  Send a “be well” thought to people you encounter, even if you don’t know them.

Savor the 5 senses
Sight - see the beauty in the world.  After a death, we reenter the world with a completely new perspective.  In many ways, this reentrance is a challenge, as we are learning to navigate our new world without the loved one we expected to have.  However, perhaps in our new sight of the world, we can see the beauty in the world and have a new appreciation for it.  Even in the small things – there is beauty that we haven’t seen before. 

Smell - indulge in the smells.  Take a moment to succumb to the smells around you.  If it is good, then relish it for a moment.  To give yourself this pause is a real treat.

Touch – connect with others.  When someone you care about gives you a hug or puts his or her hand on you, give in to that moment.  Don’t resist it or push it away.

Hear – the world is beautifully orchestrated if you listen – even in the most unexpected places.

Taste – have a more meaningful approach to taste.  My meditation program and mindful lunch has helped me savor taste – to be quiet with others in eating lunch has awakened me to many more complex tastes and flavors.
Keep a journal 
Reflect on your day – the emotions, the grief, any emergence of hope, or just a synopsis of the day.  I found the easiest way to do this is by keeping a one-sentence journal.  That’s it.  One sentence a day.  You might be able to handle that!  For me, it has become a way to recognize how I am feeling that day, and also a way to help me remember the funny or surprising moments of the day.  This idea is credited to Gretchen Rubin from the “Happiness Project” and I love it.

Worry less
I feel silly even writing this, because this is impossible for me.  However, I’ve learned that when I free myself from worry, I am able to live in the present moment.  Most of the time, my worry lives in the future.  I’m scared and anxious about what could happen (the “what-if’s”).  Give yourself a reality check.  How is this moment?  Is it good?  If yes, then live this moment and savor it.  If it’s not a good moment, then allow yourself to feel it.  Try not to miss the present by worrying about the future.  “Don’t miss the sun today worrying about the rain coming tomorrow.”

Find meaning in your day
I think it’s important to find meaning in your day, no matter what you are doing.  A lot of us work to live, meaning, we work as a means to provide for our family, but it is not the purpose of our lives.  Even so, I think since we spend so much time working, we need to find meaning there too - even in the menial things.  I often tell the students I work with to take pride in everything they do.  No matter what it is, do it with care and intention.  Put your stamp of excellence on it.  Even the little things have a great purpose which contribute to the overall big picture.  Also, I think finding pride in all aspects of your efforts helps you find meaning in them, which helps you be present.

I've read books that declare, "Act how you want to feel."  I'm not quite on board with this idea.  I like to feel and need to feel.  Sometimes I need the grief to wash over me because pushing it away is just going to make it worse in the long run.  Slapping on a happy face isn’t appropriate here – because of course I want to be peacefully happy, but in order to get to this state I need to also feel and experience my depth of sadness.  Emotions and feelings are much more complex after a loss – a constant rollercoaster.  So allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel.  If you are sad, allow yourself to feel it.  If you are happy, give yourself permission to smile or even laugh.  Feeling helps me live an authentic, genuine, and meaningful life.  Being in touch with my feelings also allows me to be kind to myself.  Is grief washing over me today?  If so, I’m not going to push myself to participate in a social event.  Maybe a soulful walk is what I need instead.

Meaningfully participate
Dr. Amit Sood argues that people can only do one “conscious” – I’ll call this meaningful – activity at a time.  The brain can’t meaningfully participate in multiple activities at once.  Try not to multitask (I know, impossible) unless they are truly mundane automatic activities.  When meaningfully participating, you find have a much higher consciousness of the activity and can find meaning in things that will surprise you.  A big challenge in our house is to put our phones down when we walk in the door from work and meaningfully participate in family time.  It has been a challenge, but it has brought our family closer together.  

Being present after stillbirth

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A lullaby for the heart

Today, a lullaby for the heart. 

Since Quinn’s stillbirth, I get moved at the most unexpected times.  Most recently, Riley and I were in the car listening to her “Music Together” Lullaby CD.  This song (although a different singer) came on, and I was instantly moved.  I think this lullaby is quite magical.

I feel connected to this lullaby because the lyrics are eternal.  For me, my story of love for my daughters, both living and dead, has no end.  My living baby does not cry when she is sleeping, but my stillborn daughter never cried at all, for she was born sleeping.

Let this lullaby warm your heart. 

“I Gave My Love A Cherry (The Riddle Song)”

I gave my love a cherry
That had no stone
I gave my love a chicken
That had no bone

I gave my love a baby
With no crying.
I gave my love a story
That had no end

How can there be a cherry
That has no stone?
And how can there be a chicken
That has no bone?

And how can there be a baby
With no crying?
How can there be a story
That has no end?

A cherry when it's blooming
It has no stone
A chicken when it's piping
It has no bone

A baby when it's sleeping
It's no crying.
The story that I love you
It has no end

Friday, August 7, 2015


Trusting, grateful, inspired Fridays

Brené Brown in "The Gifts of Imperfection,” has inspired me to write a TGIF post each Friday: Trusting, Grateful, Inspired Fridays, to help me be more intentional about bringing joy back into my life after experiencing stillbirth.  What is your TGIF?  

Happy Friday and I hope joy is part of your day.

Here is my TGIF for this week:

I am trusting that somehow, Riley will reap the benefits of being a sister and having a sister even though Quinn died.  I cherish my brother and sister, and it crushes me that Riley’s experience of sisterhood will be different and untraditional.  I trust that she’ll somehow find a connection with Quinn and will learn that she is and has a sister. 

I am grateful for my sister.  She totally gets it.  She has a wonderful gift of connecting with me and many other people on so many levels.  She’s caring, kind, and understanding.  I couldn’t ask for a more terrific sister. 

In fact, my whole family, including my brother and two sister-in-laws, are awesome and super supportive.  My dream is for us to all live in a neighborhood next to each other, instead of spread out across the country. 

I am inspired by my sister who is raising 3 beautiful children, has an esteemed job, and still makes time for learning new skills and doing things she enjoys.  An inspiration.

Sister quote

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Jessica's Grief Wish List

I’m so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who are supportive and “get it.”  But, for the rest of the world who doesn’t, here is my “Grief Wish List” (inspired by the wildly circulated “My Grief Wish List” I posted yesterday).

Grief wish list after stillbirth

Grief Wish List

I wish you would speak her name.  I love hearing it and seeing it.  Don’t be scared if I cry when I hear/see it, you have touched me.

When you find out my daughter died, I wish you asked me her name and how she died.  Please don’t be so quick to change the subject.  I would actually really like to share her with you.

I wish you recognized Riley as a big sister.  She will do many things in her lifetime to keep Quinn’s memory alive that grant her “big sister” status.

Thank you for being sensitive, but I wish you treated me like normal.  I want to be included in the social invites, the picture sharing, and the storytelling – I will decide if I want to participate but please at least include me.  Excluding me makes me feel even more isolated.

I wish you told me you are still thinking about Quinn.  Don’t think you will upset me if you talk about her.  Quite the opposite – it’s nice to know that someone else is still there with me as her death is something I will be dealing with and thinking about for the rest of my life.

I wish you knew that my daughter’s stillbirth is something that I think about every single day.

I wish you knew that the upcoming holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries terrify me. 

I wish you knew that my daughter’s stillbirth has changed me.  I have intense fears and anxieties that may be hard to understand, but I also love harder and live with a bigger consciousness of meaning. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"My Grief Wish List," Author Unknown

Even though I am surrounded by many supportive people, I could still identify with this list on so many levels.  Inspired by this idea, I am writing my own "Grief Wish List."  

I found "My Grief Wish List," along with several other great resources, at:

My grief wish list

My Grief Wish List

Author Unknown 

I wish you would not be afraid to speak my loved one’s name. They lived and were important and I need to hear their name. 

If I cry or get emotional if we talk about my loved one, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me: the fact they have died has caused my tears. You have allowed me to cry and I thank you. Crying and emotional outbursts are healing. 

I wish you wouldn’t let my loved one die again by removing from your home his pictures, artwork or other remembrances. 

I will have emotional highs and lows, up and down. I wish you wouldn’t think that if I have a good day my grief is all over, or that if I have a bad day, I need psychiatric counseling. 

I wish you knew that the death of a child is different from other losses and must be viewed separately. It is the ultimate tragedy and I wish you wouldn’t compare it to your loss of a parent, a spouse or a pet. 

Being a bereaved person is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t stay away from me. 

I wish you knew all the crazy grief reactions that I am having are in fact very normal. Depression, anger, frustration and hopelessness and the questioning of values and beliefs are to be expected following a death. 

 I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over in six months. The first few years are going to be exceedingly traumatic for us. As with alcoholics I will never be ‘cured’ or a ‘formerly bereaved’, but forever a ‘recovering’ from my bereavement. 

I wish you understood the physical reaction to grief. I may gain weight or lose weight, sleep all the time or not at all, develop a lot of illness and be accident prone, all of which are related to my grief. 

Our loved one’s birthday, the anniversary of his death and the holidays are terrible times for us. I wish you could tell me that you are thinking about them on these days and if we get quiet and withdrawn, just know that we are thinking about them and don’t try to coerce us into being cheerful. 

I wish you wouldn’t offer to take me out for a drink, or to a party. This is just a temporary crutch and the only way I can get through this grief is to experience it. I have to hurt before I can heal. 

I wish you understood that grief changes people. I am not the same person I was before my loved one died and I never will be that person again. If you keep waiting for me to get back to ‘my old self’, you will stay frustrated. I am a new creature with new thoughts, dreams, aspirations, values and beliefs. Please try to get to know the new me: maybe you will still like me. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

10 Signs you are a Bereaved Parent

Recently, my husband and I were in the middle of dinner when a summer rain stormed in and out.  With no explanation, I scooped up Riley mid-bite and ran outside, both us of barefoot.  There was a trickle of rain still in the air and I was running, splashing along the way.  Riley had no idea what was going on but was thrilled with the adventure.  I was chasing a rainbow.  When I caught it and reveled in its magic, I gave myself a chuckle.  I will literally drop everything to chase a rainbow. 

How my life has changed since Quinn died.  Not only do I mother both life and death, but Quinn has given me so much depth.  My habit of chasing rainbows coupled with an emotional breakdown after reading “On the night you were born,” led me to creating the following list, which depicts the more magical ways I have changed since Quinn’s stillbirth.  

Perhaps other parents who have experienced loss can relate or share the ways they have changed.  

10 signs you are a bereaved parent

1.  You drop everything to chase a rainbow.

2.  The world is a little more magical—
butterflies and hummingbirds get a little closer, linger a little longer, 
and the full moon shines a little brighter.

3.  A children’s bedtime story moves you to tears.

4.  Silence is an invitation for your heart to sing.

5.  The light of a candle fills the room with love & warmth.

6.  You stay a little longer at the top of a mountain.

7.  Caring for your garden has great meaning.

8.  There is beauty in the world that was never there before.

9.  You are the only one who saw that shooting star.

10.  You love harder.