Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Parenting after stillbirth

Stillbirth grief

The other day, Riley was painting a picture for her cousin and announced it was “for her sister.”  She calls a couple of her close girlfriends “sister.”  Hearing her say the word sister warms and breaks my heart at the same time.  Oh, if only she knew that she is supposed to have a living sister!  Or does she?  Are these pronouncements an indication that she remembers my pregnancy and yearns for the same child that my husband and I do too?

All of this has resurfaced concerns on how to raise a child after stillbirth.  How do you build a healthy relationship between siblings when one is alive and one is dead?  How do you raise a living child to know that she is enough - especially, if you try to have another child?  How do you strike a balance between memorializing your loved one but not over glorifying? 

We struggle with these questions every day.  Talking to a 2 year old about pregnancy and death is a complicated challenge as she doesn’t fully understand the concepts of pregnancy, birth, or death.  I expect there will be times when Riley is older and will grieve her sister, since she didn’t have the same awareness about death after Quinn’s actual stillbirth. 

My counselor has been a lifeline for these issues and I’m sure she will continue to be for years to come.  She recommended following the child’s lead.  I have been worried that I am not building a strong enough relationship between Riley and Quinn.  Riley is familiar with the word sister and hears me say Quinn’s name, but she doesn't really understand.

Although we do special things as a family for Quinn, I must be patient and sensitive to Riley’s development.  Riley’s awareness of her real sister will come with age and I hope I can help them foster a special bond. 

This passage from Sands (a phenomenal organization in the UK for stillbirth and neonatal loss support) helps guide me through this journey:

“If, from time to time, you talk about the baby who died and use his or her name, your child will grow up knowing that they had a baby brother or sister. If you display photos of the baby, and involve your child in anniversaries or memorials for your baby, this becomes a normal part of your child’s life. It offers opportunities for them to ask questions and for you to tell them what happened…

Older children who discover later that they had a baby brother or sister who died, especially if this was their twin or triplet, may feel shocked, upset or angry that they were not told earlier. Some may not trust you to tell them other important things.”

The big takeaways from my counselor and online researching (mainly Sands) in regards to supporting living children after stillbirth are as follows:

1.       Take the child’s lead.  There may be things you want to tell or explain to your living child, but developmentally he may not be ready.  Do and say what is appropriate for now.  More detail can be provided when the child is older and it is developmentally appropriate. 

2.       Be honest.  Talk in simple words and concepts. 

3.       Manage your own feelings.  Be open and honest about your feelings.  It’s OK and healthy to grieve in front of your living child but also provide some normality to their lives.
a.       For me, it broke my heart to have Riley constantly at home where the mood was so sad.  I asked (begged) family to offer her play dates so she could have moments of happiness away from the constant grief.  If you are looking for ways to help a grieving family – this is my biggest recommendation.  Offer to give a positive experience to their living child(ren).

4.       Involve children. 
a.       Ask the child if she wants to contribute something to the baby’s memory box.
b.      Involve them in anniversary or other special dates.  The Sands brochure makes an important note, however, that some children may enjoy participating in rituals that occur on anniversaries, while other children may find it too difficult or sad.

These takeaways are relevant to our family right now.  Our living child is 2 and I am sure this list will grow and change as she gets older. 


The full Sands brochure, “Supporting Children When a Baby Has Died,” can be found here.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quiet Revolution

Quiet Revolution

I am honored to be included on Susan Cain's website, "Quiet Revolution," as a Quiet Revolutionary.  Here I discuss the possibility that introverts and extroverts grieve differently and how to support each other if you are part of an introvert-extrovert pair.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Are you part of an introvert-extrovert pair?  What joys and challenges exist in your lives?  Has their been a time when you have dealt with an experience differently as an introvert-extrovert pair?  How have you supported each other and gotten through it?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ingredients for Joy & Meaning

Choose Joy Create Meaning

I am re-posting “My Ingredients for Joy & Meaning” list because it has been such a crucial part of relearning how to live after my daughter’s stillbirth.  I wasn’t sure if joy was ever possible after experiencing stillbirth, but Brené Brown in “The Gifts of Imperfection” has shown me it is.  Following my “Ingredients” on a daily basis helps me find purpose and beauty in the everyday, as well as joy and meaning. 

I encourage everyone to write and follow an “Ingredients for Joy & Meaning” list.  It will change how you experience the every day.  Brown’s instructions are as follows:

 “One of the best things that we’ve ever done in our family is making the ‘ingredients for joy and meaning’ list. I encourage you to sit down and make a list of the specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in your life. Then check that list against your to-do list and your to-accomplish list. It might surprise you.”

Here is mine:

My Ingredients for Joy & Meaning
  1. Recognize, savor, and enjoy the little things…those are what life is all about.
  2. Live the moment.  If it’s good, then really live it.
  3. Laugh and smile.
  4.  Love with my whole heart.
  5.  Create memories with my family.
  6. Watch my daughter laugh.
  7. Surround myself in nature.
  8.  Be available for spiritual experiences.
  9.  Run.  A lot.
  10. Be my true self: genuine, honest, and authentic.
  11. Surround myself with people I love.
  12. Connect with others.
A fun exercise was to ask my husband to write his “Ingredients” list.  We compared and were surprised to see we had many of the same ingredients.  Seeing the ingredients that were different helped us better understand each other and connect.

I have my list posted at work and home to remind me that I can bring joy and meaning to my life every single day.  This list also brought me to the consciousness to strive to live a big LITTLE life – a life that is little in the grand scale of the universe, but big with meaning to me. 

I recommend Brené Brown's book to anyone who wishes to live a more fulfilling and loving life.  It has been a powerful tool in positively impacting my outlook on life after the stillbirth of my daughter. 

What are your ingredients for joy and meaning? 

Living a big little life

Thursday, September 24, 2015

To my husband

I was deep in labor when we found out.  I was 8 centimeters, quickly progressing to 10, when we heard the news.  You were by my side, all settled from bringing in the load from the car.  We were ready to stay a while.  You brought some comforts from home to have at the hospital while we welcomed our baby into the world during her first days.  I was screaming from contraction pain and you were holding my left hand.  We were both surrounded by sheer chaos but you stood by me, like a calm mountain of strength.  Then we heard the words.  We were both stabbed by disbelief. 

“Doctor, how serious is this?” you asked.  I was in total denial and didn’t have the courage to ask the question.

“Very.  She’s gone,” the doctor said.

It hit you instantly.  Your tears.  Your sobs.  You nearly fell to the ground, but my hospital bed caught you.  You collapsed on its railing.  I saw the strength inside you snap and your body crumble.  At that moment I saw how much you loved her.  A piece of you died then.  I saw it go.  I saw it slip out of you like a ghost and float away.  I’m not sure what it was that left you, but I knew that you would be forever changed and that your heart would always ache for her. 

But then you were strong again.  You stood by me and gave me the strength to birth our daughter.  Your voice hit my ear, your face so close, almost touching it.  “We need to get the baby out,” you said slowly and powerfully.  “Push,” you said deeply. 

I’ll never forget that night.  Your call to your dad saying, “This is the call,” with a smile on your face, totally ignorant to the fact that your next call would be saying the words, “We lost her,” in between gasps. 

I’ll never forget looking at you as you held our daughter and saw your love pour over her.  I don’t know if you know this, but you were swaying when you held her.  Even in her death you wanted to comfort her.  Your calm embrace quieted the room and your warm tears met her cool skin.  I’ll never forget you calling the funeral homes hours after her arrival sobbing, “I just want to bring her home as soon as possible.”

We left the hospital holding her in our hearts instead of in our hands and I’m sorry you became a father of two this way.  You are so strong, loving, and deeply caring - as much to our deceased child as to our living.  Your love is a gift and I’m honored to walk with you on this journey of life, even though it is a path we had never wished to walk. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


To grieve is to love

Grief and loss are complex and influence many spheres of my life, even though I don’t realize it.  In this journey toward healing, I go through periods where I write and reflect on grief and healing, and periods where I am dry.  I’ve noticed that during the dry periods, the dark clouds start to creep in on my horizon.  As an introvert, I am very introspective, but sometimes it’s hard to travel inward to the grief.  There are times  days – weeks – where I want to go back to my old self and live a “normal” life.  I won’t journal, blog, or work on my “Daily Inspiration” project.  I try to pretend like everything is OK and we are a normal happy family.  However, I’m learning that these are the days when I’m the saddest. 

I’m learning that grief isn’t something that you can ignore or run away from.  It is always there.  Period.  After your child dies, there are no more “normal” days.  The only way to live with grief is to face it head on.  If you ignore it, the grief will slowly creep in until it blurs your outlook and feelings.  A good way to face the grief head on is to write about it.  

Writing to heal from grief is nothing new and has inspired great authors throughout history.  More recently, grief led Joyce Carol Oates to write “A Widow’s Story” and Meghan O’Rourke to write “The Long Goodbye.”  I resonated with much of what they describe in their New York Times article:

For me, writing is a way to process my ongoing grief and to express my memory and love for Quinn.  After all, to grieve is to love.  When the sadness creeps in, I have to remind myself of this every day.

In addition, doing my “Daily Inspiration” project helps me put words to my grief each day.  It allows me to think about one aspect of grief and healing and really meditate on it throughout the day.  I didn't realize how healing this was until I took a small sabbatical from it.  These are the daily inspirations that have been especially healing to me lately:
Write to preserve her memory

True love stories never have endings

I will not be overcome

Grief is like the ocean

Friday, September 18, 2015

Lehigh Valley Via Marathon

Lehigh Valley Via Marathon

I recently ran the Lehigh Valley Via Marathon in Allentown, PA.  This was my strongest marathon yet!  I ran in memory of my stillborn daughter Quinn.  Training for and running the marathon was incredibly healing both emotionally and physically, and a special way for me to honor my daughter.  Below is a review of my training and the Via Marathon course.

I loosely followed the FIRST Marathon Training Plan.  I followed their weekend-long run plan, and I felt like their mileage increases were manageable and realistic.  I conducted all of my long runs on asphalt, to build up my resistance to the road.  I learned this the hard way during my last marathon where I did all my long runs on trails which did not prepare me for the pounding that came race day.

I did my weekday shorter runs mostly on trails or on asphalt with the jogging stroller.  The stroller slowed me down a ton and I could not meet the recommended distance or pace on the training plan.  Most of my weekday runs were 4-5 miles; on occasion I was able to hit 6 miles.  Nonetheless, I felt very prepared for the marathon since I took the weekend long runs very seriously.

CamelBak CircuitWe had a hot and humid summer in New Jersey, so I could not have gotten through my long runs without my CamelBak Circuit running vest.  This holds 1.5L water and was my life saver.  During my 18 and 20 mile runs, I had to refill it, but it was sufficient for all the other runs.  At first I felt ridiculous wearing it, but it wasn’t long before practicality trumped foolishness.  Taking a sip of ice cold water 10 miles into a humid run at 85 degrees under a beating sun was well worth it!

I am also a shade junky.  I try to follow the shade whenever possible, even if it means (safely) disobeying the running traffic rules.  I have found that any moments in the shade, even if short, positively impact my run.

GU energy gelI chose GU as my fuel of choice and used this Runner's World post as a guideline.  I ate one GU (with caffeine) every hour.  So for the marathon, I had 3 GU's total and I chased each GU with water.  I also took water at all of the water stops, except for the last stop where I took Gatorade.  This approach worked great for me.  I usually don't drink much caffeine in life, but I found it helpful when running long distances.  I found the rule of "drinking by feel" to be valid too.  

I hope these tips are helpful to you if you are a novice marathoner like me!

Lehigh Valley Via Marathon

Overall, I loved the Via Marathon and would run it again in a heartbeat.  The beginning was great – there was a good crowd for the first few miles and the course took an interesting path across bridges and even through a covered bridge.  There were a few long legs on the towpath, but it was manageable.  The course was as flat as they advertised it to be.  This was a real treat!  There were a few mild inclines, that I would not call hills.  I think we even lost more elevation than we gained in this course!  I felt great during the first half and I was flying through the course – well above my goal pace.  I was thinking to myself, “YES!  This is what life is all about, I feel alive!”

The challenge to this race was the solitude.  I found the last 8 miles to be mentally brutal.  Miles 18-25.5 were strictly on the tow path.  There were few spectators - just a couple clusters and that was it.  By this point, the pain had set in and there were few distractions to get me through.  I could not believe we were running miles 20-25 all by ourselves!  The runners had thinned out by that time, so I felt pretty alone.  I was so happy to finally see spectators during the last 0.7 mile stretch to the finish.  It would be great if there was a way to have more spectators from miles 20-25. 

The lack of spectators at the end is my only complaint.  Otherwise, I thought it was a great race, a beautiful and flat course, and well organized.  I felt like my weekday trail runs coupled with my weekend asphalt long runs prepared me well for the terrain. 

I love running recreationally and would love to connect with you about your goals and/or training!  Please be in touch if you are running, especially if you choose to run in memory of a loved one.  I would love to hear your story:   

I am still running and dedicating runs to babies who have died.  I would be honored to run in memory of your loved one, please request a run here. Be well and #runtoheal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A marathon for Quinn

Marathon after stillbirth
Forever alive in my heart
Running to heal after stillbirth
My bereavement nurse placed a blanket over Quinn’s bassinet in the hospital, opened the door, and wheeled Quinn away.  I would never see her again.  That is the last memory I will always have of her.  While waiting to be released from the hospital, I knew I needed to run a marathon.  I needed to do it for Quinn and for me.  I couldn’t get her back, but I could run.  I could run fast and far.  I felt desperate to “do something,” and running filled that hole.  Little did I know that running would put me on an incredible emotional and healing journey. 

In the days after Quinn’s death, it was my goal to get outside once a day.  It was the middle of February, only days after giving birth, and my husband and I walked around our neighborhood once.  That was all I could manage, for the physical pain and emotional turmoil was too great.  The relentless winter was unforgiving, but we did our 20 minute walk every day, through snow, sleet, and wind.  Eventually, I felt ok to walk a little further.  At my 6 week OB appointment, my doctor gave me the ok to start running.  That was all I needed – I was out the next day. 

I started off running 1-2 miles and I was sore for days after.  I pushed through the pain and eventually made it to a comfortable 3 miles.  This 3 mile mark was a huge milestone because I was able to build my long runs off this.  It took about 6 months to complete my training, starting from scratch – literally, barely able to move and walk after the stillbirth of my daughter – to my longest run of 20 miles.

Running has been enormously healing for me and a way to honor Quinn.  Running has given me time for my brain to process the life and death of Quinn, and the future of my life without her.  If it weren’t for running, I wouldn’t have had dedicated time and space to grieve and heal.  When the dark clouds began to suffocate my brain, hitting the pavement was the only healthy response.

Running was especially healing when I returned to work.  My busy schedule had returned, with the routine of work, daycare drop off, dinners, and bedtime.  However, I always knew I would have my daily run to think about Quinn.  Knowing that I would always have time with her/for her was comforting. 

Running has also helped me raise awareness about stillbirth.  I dedicated runs to Quinn and to other stillborn babies to honor their story and family.  I had the honor to dedicate runs to Finley, Chris, and Cerys and share their stories on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  Stillbirth is such a secret in the United States, and these stories have helped give a voice to these babies and families who so deserve one. 

I strive to live a big LITTLE life and the marathon was big with meaning to me.  Above all, running is a physical expression of my grief.  I go through periods of wanting to talk and not, wanting to write and not, but through it all I always want to run.  It is the one constant healing tool in my life.

Via Marathon, Allentown PA

At the starting line, I cried.  I would not be here achieving this enormous personal goal if Quinn didn’t die - but how quickly I would trade her life for this goal.  This was for her.  I can’t bring her back, but I can run this marathon for her.  I wore a Quinn shirt that Josh and Riley wore as well.  The beginning of the course was beautiful.  I felt great and was flying through the course.  I went through a covered bridge and over several other bridges.  Most of the marathon was along a river on the towpath, which made it a gorgeous route.  I ran straight until mile 18, then the pain set-in.  I was not yet recovered from an injured hip and it started to scream with pain.  Brené Brown’s words rung in my head – “dig deep.”  Oh how deep I had to dig, but not as deep as when I delivered Quinn.

Via Marathon, Allentown PA

What got me through was thinking of my daughter who could not experience this gift of life.  I chose this challenge and I could experience pain because I was alive, and that was a gift. 

I suppose I’ve taken on the challenges this summer of climbing Mount Washington and running a marathon because I knew I could do it.  I am certain that the hardest experience of my life was delivering my dead child.  There will never be anything more painful – emotionally or physically than that.  Having a destiny to live without one of my children makes a close second.  However, I try to live my life to the fullest because I know she can’t.  I do these things for her and in honor of her.  I hope I make my living daughter proud and inspire her to honor her sister in ways that are meaningful to her.  

Livings a big little life

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Climbing Mount Washington

After my second daughter died, my husband and I were in search of “the trip of a lifetime.”  A luxurious vacation didn’t seems appropriate - we wanted a more soulful and meaningful trip to dedicate to our daughters.  We love hiking, camping, and the outdoors, so we decided on a challenging adventure – to climb Mount Washington.  We went the third week of August when we hoped for the best weather. 

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 feet, located in New Hampshire.  Below is a review of our trip.

Our Route:

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

Crawford Path to
David Path to
Boott Spur Trail

Preparation & Gear

We took the climb seriously.  My husband, an Eagle Scout, has always lived up to the Boy Scouts motto, “Be prepared” when spending time in the outdoors.  We each had the 10 essentials in our packs, which I thought was totally ridiculous at first, but boy were we close to needing them! 

You can refill water at the summit, so bring enough for the trip up.

We each had Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles.  For me, these poles were not a good fit for this climb.  It was easier to use all fours to climb at points and the poles were a hindrance and hard to collapse.  I’d recommend easily collapsible poles, for easy storage during steep climbing parts.  Something like these.

We camped at the Dolly Copp Campground and drove to Pinkham Notch, where the trail head was.  We were able to leave our car there for free all day. 

When we returned from our hike in the evening, even though Pinkham Notch had closed, the showers (for pay) and bathrooms in the basement were still available. 

There is an option to pay for a shuttle down the mountain.  This is what most people did as we saw many people on the trail on the ascend but almost no one making the return trip down the mountain. 

We had an amazing time hiking round-trip, but I am glad we were prepared and took the climb seriously as far as supplies were concerned.  As you can imagine, with such rocky terrain, the climb down was MUCH more strenuous than up.  The trails are not that long, but they are difficult. 

Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Tuckerman Ravine Trail trail head

The Climb Up

We chose to take the Tuckerman Ravine trail up the mountain, as it is described as “one of the shortest, most scenic, and most popular trails to the summit used by both hikers and skiers.”  Overall, the hike up was amazing.  We had great weather for 2/3 of the ascent - warm temperature and mostly sunny skies.  The first half of the trip was very manageable.  There were some nice waterfalls along the trail and beautiful wooded area.
Waterfall along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Tuckerman Ravine Trail
The first half of the climb
Tuckerman Ravine Trail

At the half-way mark, there was a beautiful view of Tuckerman Bowl.  We were surprised and excited to learn we would be climbing it!

Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Tuckerman Bowl view
Tuckerman Ravine Trail
The view of Tuckerman Bowl at the half-way mark.  A beautiful waterfall in the distance. 
The second half of the climb was more strenuous.  It was certainly more of a "climb" than a "hike," hence the word choice.  We ascended Tuckerman Bowl, at this point, the terrain was starting to get more rocky.  The views were gorgeous and it was so neat climbing next to the waterfalls. 

Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Getting closer to Tuckerman Bowl
Tuckerman Ravine Trail
Climbing Tuckerman Bowl
Tuckerman Ravine Trail
In addition to the big waterfall, there were a lot of little falls
Tuckerman Ravine Trail
There was not much vegetation above the tree line, except I saw these purple flowers, which I dubbed "Quinn's flowers." 
Once we got up Tuckerman Bowl, the rest of the climb was all boulders.  Here, I struggled with my hiking poles and found it was easier to scramble on all fours at times and put my poles away.  (My advice - bring poles that are easily collapsible!)  This portion of the climb was a bit relentless as the weather was also starting to turn.
There were a lot of people ascending but no one descending!
The last leg of the ascent - two long boulder sections

The Summit

We were thrilled when we reached the top!  However, the wind was whipping at about 50 mph and the clouds prohibited any view.  This is the view when the summit isn't in the clouds:

Mount Washington summit
The view from Mount Washington on a clear day
The view from Mount Washington on a clear day
However, the summit was in the clouds for us so we could barely see our own hand extended in front of us!  But, it's ok because the journey is more fun than actually reaching the top!

Mount Washington summit
Enjoying the summit in the clouds and wind
We brought a rock that was engraved with a R (Riley - my living daughter) on one side and a Q (Quinn - my daughter who was stillborn) on the other side to leave at the top.  We left it in the summit cairn with the R side down since Riley is still with us on this earth and the Q side up since Quinn's energy has been released into the universe.  

Mount Washington summit cairn
The engraved Q and R rock that we left in the summit cairn
Mount Washington summit cairn
We left an engraved rock for our two daughters in the summit cairn
The Climb Down

We had such a wonderful experience on the climb up that we decided to make a last minute change to our plans and descend down a different trail, to more fully experience the mountain.  We took Crawford Path to Davis Path to Boott Spur Trail.  We hit the trail a little late in the morning, so we were a bit off schedule for our descent departure.  However, we were still confident we were OK on daylight.  Wrong!  We hiked for 2 hours in the pitch dark!

Mount Washington has the reputation of being "home of the world's worst weather."  Although we didn't have to worry about snow in late August, we got a sense of this with the brutal winds on the descent.  Our descent was entirely unprotected for several hours.  Do not follow this descent if there is any chance of lightening.  

Crawford Path started with a rocky descent down boulders but then quickly became a bit less steep.  There were supposed to be beautiful views, although the clouds prohibited us from enjoying them.  

Crawford Path
Crawford Path in the clouds
Crawford Path
Crawford Path in the clouds
 Once on Davis Path, we walked along a ridge for a while, which was rocky but very flat.  The strong wind knocked me over at times!

Davis Path
Davis Path
Davis Path
Davis Path
Time was flying by and when we hit Boott Spur Trail, we started to get nervous about daylight.  A good while into Boott Spur, we finally hit the tree line which gave us a break from the howling winds.  My big rookie mistake was the trail choice.  I learned, that if it is cloudy and extremely windy at the summit, it will probably be like this on a long exposed trail like Crawford-Davis-Boott Spur.  In our weather conditions, I think it would have been better to descend Tuckerman's Ravine.  Nonetheless, even though the wind challenged our hike and we didn't have views, it was still amazing.  It felt more like Mars than Earth, which was really neat.

We only saw two other couples on the descent, and we were the last ones on the trail by several hours.  It became dark at 7:30pm and we hiked the remaining two hours in the dark.  Thank goodness we each had the 10 essentials, which includes headlamps.  If we had no headlamps, or only one, it would have been a mess.  

Hiking in the dark had it's challenges.  It was still steep and it was harder to navigate the rocks.  We got a little nervous when we saw a "Caution - Trail Under Construction" sign.  It would not have been possible to turn back and take a different trail at this point, the other junctions were too far away.  It turned out OK - the sign was referring to a ladder that we were able to clumsily bypass and slide down the ledge instead.

I did see bear scat and as we didn't have a bear bell, I took it upon myself to sing songs for the duration of the descent, just to let the bears know we were there.  My mantra was that I needed to get home safely to my living daughter Riley!

We reached Pinkham Notch at 9:30pm and were relieved we made it back safely.  Had we been forced to backtrack if the construction was impassible or gotten injured, we very likely would have had to spend the night out there.

The whole journey was soulful and incredible.  I learned a lot about myself and about life.  Life is about the journey and you have to surrender to the situation at times.  As much as you would like to change some things, you can't.  Whether it be changing the situation of hiking Mount Washington in the dark or bringing Quinn back to life, events that we did not ask for happen to us and we have to embrace them in order to move forward.  Resisting or fighting the reality does not change it. 

I would climb Mount Washington again - in a heartbeat.  Next time, though, I will not hit the trail late!