Guest Post: Holiday Coping: Dealing With Infertility or Adoption Process During The Festive Season

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I distinctly remember sitting through Thanksgiving and Christmas after the loss of my third baby. The sense of hollowness. The sense of having to put on a happy face. Guilt for laughing. Guilt for not laughing. Going through the motions. Pretending to be okay. When I received this short guest post on coping with infertility during the holidays, it brought back those memories of tension, strain, and grief.

Executive Director of The Adoption Consultancy and Nicole Witt–remembers a personal story of “holiday coping” years ago during the festive holidays:

Early on in Nicole’s marriage, before anyone knew that she and her husband were having fertility struggles, Nicole was at a family holiday gathering.  A family member started showing her pictures of a recent get-together she had had with her college girlfriends.  As she showed Nicole each picture, the only information she gave to her about each woman was what children she had.  Such as, “Here’s Susie. She has a 6 year old boy and a 4 year old girl.”  “And here’s Jodie who’s a stay-at-home mom to her 5 year old twin girls….”  It seemed to be how she defined each woman and it left Nicole wondering how this family member would define her to others.  Was Nicole nothing without kids?  This is just one scenario that someone may have to cope with this holiday season.

We all have that crazy cousin, drunk uncle, overly-concerned parent or blunt friend who might say or do something this holiday that will make us cringe, but here are some tips on how to cope from Nicole Witt:

  1. Think Ahead: Make a plan ahead of time.  This can include practicing responses to probing questions that you know you’ll be asked.  Or it can be a signal to your partner that it’s time to fake a sickness and leave.  It can also be recruiting and educating trusted family members on how & when to redirect inappropriate dinner table conversations so that you don’t have to.
  2. Take “Me” Time: Step away.  This was the most effective tip for me.  I would just take a few minutes in the bathroom to myself for some deep breaths and refocusing.  Once I had gathered myself, I would have the strength to rejoin the group, at least for a little while.
  3. It is OK to Say “No!”: Say ‘no’ to invitations that will be too difficult for you.  It’s OK to not accept every invitation you get.  Even if it’s for your family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Maybe create an urgent trip that you need to go on that week.  Although it may be difficult to do, if it’s easier than attending the event, don’t hesitate.

During the holiday season this year, The Adoption Consultancy and along with Nicole are inviting others to share their holiday coping stories via @AdoptConsultant and @BeyondIF with the hashtag #holidaycoping.  We would love to hear from your readers this holiday season to share their stories, whether they are funny, sad, frustrating or heartwarming.  Everybody needs a place to vent to an audience that truly understands.

Happy “Coping” Holidays.

Six years ago (warning: miscarriage/pregnancy loss)

October 2015 017I can’t let November 7th pass unacknowledged, even though our house is very busy right now packing up orders, visiting with out-of-state company, and more. On this day, six years ago, I was plunged into the depths of grief. Today, our house is full with our four energetic, demanding children, but we never forget the one who didn’t get to stay. The kids asked me this morning how old Noah would have been and what he would have looked like and how our house would feel if he was here now too. We talked about whether or not Alaina or Tanner would have been born without him and we thought how sad it would be to have them not exist, so we are grateful to Noah for making them possible for our family. I can hardly believe it has been six years. It is hard to remember sometimes how it felt and what is was like to be brought so low and to feel so sad, broken, and despairing. A lot of beautiful work came out of the death-birth of my little third son.

We remember you, little one. Happy Birthday!

Tuesday Tidbits: Ceremonializing Loss

When I am asked for resources for women experiencing miscarriage, my go-to link of choice is Stillbirthday, specifically their information on how to plan for a baby’s birth at any gestation and in any setting: How to Plan – Still Birth Day. I also recommend the resources available from The Amethyst Network, specifically the section on When someone you know miscarries » The Amethyst Network (my own thoughts on Miscarriage is a Birth are shared there as well).

This week I appreciated reading a detailed article on how to hold a ceremony for an unborn child (though I would prefer not using the term “unborn,” since the babies are still born!)

Shortly thereafter they induced her. Three hours later she changed her mind. She wanted a full naming ceremony. Could I come visit her right away? She held my hand tightly and said she was so glad I had dared to visit. Would I be there as soon as her baby was born? Before I left her husband shook my hand so hard I thought it would break.

At 2 a.m. my pager went off. It was a beautiful ceremony. They claimed this baby as their own, honoring her short life and what she had given them. They named her and prepared to let her go. The moment was tender, raw and love-filled.

via How to Hold a Ceremony for an Unborn Child | One Chosen Family.

Additionally, from the website Spirit Babies, there are some tips on organizing your own Spirit Babies Ceremony.

This article explains how friends helped “see” this mother in her miscarriage experience:

I reached out to other women who had miscarried and asked them to share their experiences. What emerged was not only a beautiful testimony of the power of friendship, but insight on how to be a better friend myself.

via When We Remember: A Story of Miscarriage | Kansas City Moms Blog.

When I lost my baby in 2009, my friends sent beads for a necklace for me (like those made for a mother blessing ceremony). It hangs on my wall above his birth certificate. One of my personal “ministries” or outreach efforts is to keep footprints-on-my-heart charms available for women in need. We added twin footprints charms to our etsy shop towards the end of last year as well. Each time we sell one of these charms, my own heart experiences a sinking feeling. I wish no one needed to buy these. It was especially sad to mail out the orders for them that came in around Christmas.

Miscarriage Memories Footprints on Heart Charm, Pendant, BabylossMiscarriage Memories Twin Footprints on Heart Charm, Pendant, Babyloss, Stillbirth, Twins, multiple losses.

When we have leftover casting material from our larger figures, Mark quickly pours it into one of our pendant molds, making rough “scrap” birth goddesses or other pieces. We sell these at bargain bin prices in our etsy shop. We occasionally have “baby spiral” and “baby in my heart” scrap pieces as well and they are only $1 (they are rough and best used as a component of creating your own project).

TINY Baby spiral, birth labyrinth birth art sculpture (birth altar, mother blessing, doula, midwife, childbirth educator)And, finally, I had a student this week who needed to help a grieving parent ask me about my booklet, Talking to Someone Whose Child is Dying. I wrote it quite a few years ago when I worked at the Ronald McDonald House and I’d almost forgotten that I made the booklet available as a free download here: Free e-Booklets | Talk Birth

Tuesday Tidbits: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Many of us are all too aware of the face of pregnancy loss and the 1 in 4 women who will have this experience as part of their journey through the childbearing year. When my third baby died during my second trimester of pregnancy in 2009, I found the image of tiny footprints on my heart to be a very significant symbol. Since that time, I always keep footprints charms on hand to share with other mothers. I’d hoped to create a new sculpture in honor of this year’s awareness month, but didn’t manage to do so. Instead, in honor, we created a new memorial bracelet for mothers impacted by babyloss. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the local pregnancy loss support group in making jewelry items for memory boxes.

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Footprints on My Heart Memorial Bracelet by BrigidsGrove on Etsy.

Our shop also picks one organization a month for a donation to a nonprofit organization. Our October donation went to Brittany’s Blankets for Tiny Babies. We sent footprints charms and forget-me-knot charms:
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My Sacred Postpartum class started on October 1st and our first week’s assignment was art journaling about our birth experiences. It has been almost five years since my first miscarriage-birth and while sometimes I feel like I seem weird or like I “shouldn’t” keep counting it, I’ve always given Noah’s birth equal weight as a birth experience in my childbearing life.  So, I included a page for his birth story in my art journal as well.
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(Side note: I have been seeing a chiropractor recently to make sure I’m in good alignment for my upcoming birth and it means a lot to me that she remembers and counts Noah’s birth experience too, saying things like, “well, since you’ve had four births before,” even though I’m in her office with only three kids.)
I’ve mentioned before how powerfully I needed other women’s stories after my own miscarriage experiences. My two favorite books for this are:

I’ve also shared the link to my friend’s miscarriage-birth story in a past post. It is one of the most powerfully written miscarriage stories I’ve ever read. October also marks her due date with that baby and so I want to honor her memory by sharing the link to their birth story again today:

…Three words. It only took me three words to tell you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, what happened to me. I wonder how many more words it will take to tell myself — the MAMA, the bearer of lost life — what happened.

11 weeks. Saturday night. Walgreens bathroom. By myself. Cabernet Sauvignon in the public toilet. Doughnut-sized clots of tissue that just kept coming. The sensation of birthing jellyfish. Sticky red hands from trying to clean myself up, pulling red chunks out of my underwear. Staring into the toilet and wondering how in the world I could possibly flush it I did, after a long time and many tears. Drips running down my legs and polka-dotting my feet. Telling an employee there was a bloody mess in the bathroom. Walking out of Walgreens in blood-stained jeans.

Did you like it better when I had only said three words? I liked it better when I was still pregnant.

via Losing Susannah | Peace, Love, & Spit Up.

I did note in an article I just read this week via a different friend who recently experienced miscarriage, that personal stories can also be unhelpful to others though, especially when they redirect from the woman in front of us to our own experiences (though, I would venture to say that is because so many of us feel as if we have to hold our own stories close to our hearts, and therefore somewhat unresolved, because of a lack of cultural permission to talk about them normally):

I am left feeling more alone than I ever thought possible. Solicited or not, countless women say to me, “Why is no one talking about miscarriage. No one talks about postpartum depression either. All of these things women go through that nobody talks about. Why are we not talking about it if everyone is going through it?” It’s only now that I realize why I don’t want to share my experience as openly anymore. The more I talked about it, the less understood I felt.

All I yearn for is the simplest of engagement, “How are you feeling?” Four words. Nothing more.

Instead, I am bombarded by horror stories of women losing their longed for dream in a pool of blood or heroic war stories of women whose histories in no my way resemble mine and go on to have healthy children. Are the details of someone’s sister’s friend’s friends’ 4 consecutive miscarriages supposed to be heartening?Women use my openness about my loss as a springboard to delve into their reproductive aches and pains, recent or decades old. The sharing feels tinged — needing to be less this, more that, better than, more than, and most definitely triumphant in achieving their desired family size. I propose that we simply listen to one another, with presence of mind and heart, no matter the level of uncomfortability.

via Grand Losses: Musings on My Miscarriage | Christy Turlington Burns.

This article is extremely powerful and I highly recommend it. The author goes on to explore how women blame themselves for their reproductive losses:

Miscarriage is simpler than all of that. It is loss of life that wasn’t sustainable.

I have fantasies of shouting this from rooftops and tweeting random cryptic notes containing the facts about pregnancy loss in the hopes of galvanizing women’s perceptions of themselves. I daydream about pleading with women not to blame their beautiful bodies for their reproductive devastations. I wish I could dare every woman who has at some point or another wondered if they were somehow the root cause of a reproductive disappointment to turn that question on its head. “What if you are not the reason that this happened to you? What if it just is?” I can’t help but wonder if this would illicit more anger, more grief, more relief, and/or more hope. Or maybe something else completely. I am confident that it would engender less competitiveness, less perfectionistic strivings, and more self-love.

via Grand Losses: Musings on My Miscarriage | Christy Turlington Burns.

Related past posts:

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage Care | Talk Birth.

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage and Story-Sharing | Talk Birth.

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage | Talk Birth.




Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage

In the book A Silent Sorrow, the authors quote a responsive reading from the book Bittersweet…hellogoodbye (a book for creating memorial services for miscarried or stillborn babies). The responsive part of the reading from the other people assembled can be unique to your own spiritual path, so “Be with us [divinity name]” or “Hear us, [divinity name]” or ‘[divinity name] grant us healing and strength. Personally, I would simply leave off any divinity name and use plain old “Hear us” or “grant us healing and strength,” because then each person present is able to attach whatever additional meaning to the words they prefer, rather than having it represent any sort of specific belief.

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Some “seconds” of our baby in my heart design were added to our etsy shop this month.


For the time of unending tears, pain, and struggle;

times of not being understood by family, friends,

times of longing and emptiness,

times of not being in control,

times of searching within and without.

We pray…



For all the memories of our baby;

for any brief moment of being with our baby,

for those who walked the journey of mourning with us,

for each time of remembering.

We pray…



For the times of letting go.,

for the times of reaching out,

for each new day and each ray of hope,

for the gifts our baby left us:

in giving us new eyes with which to see,

new ears to help us hear others,

a new heart to love more deeply,

and for new values in our lives.

We pray…


[p. 233]

I’m also letting go of the book Avoiding Miscarriage by Susan Rousselot (see previous post for bookshelf reduction currently in progress). In it, she acknowledges the depth of the experience of miscarriage:

A miscarriage is, by its nature, a life-changing event. From the moment a woman knows she is pregnant, she wonders how that pregnancy with change her life—she imagine the future with that child. How will this impact my work? What changes will need to be made to the house? And what sort of mother will I be?… That unborn child can turn out to be anything, and because of that it is a dream of the future. When that dream is shattered, we don’t just lose a few weeks or months of pregnancy; we don’t even just lose a ‘fetus’ or a ‘baby.’ It is as though we lose a whole lifetime—the lifetime we were going to share with that child. We didn’t mean for the idea to take on such huge proportions, but it did because we are human, and as humans we think about the future, and we wonder.

Like any traumatic event, there is no ‘right way’ to deal with a pregnancy loss. Some women will grieve as intensely as they would the loss of a full-term birth. Others will feel they are doing okay. Some women will react by resolving to take life less for granted. Others may harbor a lingering distrust of their own bodies. Some women may want to take a long time to grieve. Others may want to put the experience behind them by redoubling the pace of their lives…

…Many women who experience a miscarriage feel a powerlessness stemming from the fact that they couldn’t control what was happening inside their own bodies. This feeling is often exacerbated by the good, but often misplaced, intentions, of doctors or others who take charge of the miscarriage—or dismiss it—in an attempt to spare the woman further distress. (p. 67-68)

Regarding the use of the word “worse” in categorizing grief and loss, I shared with a friend recently that one of the things I learned from my own losses and working with other mothers through the organization I co-founded (The Amethyst Network), is that there is no hierarchy of loss and grief. They are all real. They are all valid. There is no prize for the worst experience. And, we can hold the experiences and feelings of each as valid without needing to categorize by who had it worse. Each is hard and “worst” in its own way. It is okay to let the pain hurt and to take as long as you need.

Last week I read this very raw and real miscarriage story and shared the link on TAN’s Facebook page:

“As glad as you were to tell who you told about the pregnancy, you are exactly a hundred thousand times as unglad to bear this news. You call your boss first, because the primary impact on your immediate life is that you will need to be off work for at least a couple of weeks. This is what they call a “missed miscarriage,” where the fetus lived to perhaps eight or nine weeks of gestation, but your body stayed pregnant all the same, put you through that nightmare of sickness and stress for nothing. Less than nothing. That anger comes a little later, not just yet. In any event, you won’t be back at your desk until the material of the pregnancy is gone, one way or another…”

How to Have a Miscarriage | The Hairpin

And, I received an announcement of a new book from a woman who previously emailed me to talk about my own miscarriage memoir. I look forward to reviewing her book soon.

At 33 weeks pregnant, Amy is certain something bad will soon happen, it had too many times before. Deep down she fears it’s only a matter of time before the baby she’s carrying will die. Despite the fact that Amy had been repeatedly slapped in the face with multiple miscarriages, she still can’t seem to quiet that tiny voice in the back of her head that’s screaming at her to not give up hope. Follow Amy’s true story as she stumbles through her journey with humor and warmth, all while dealing with the neuroses that came along with getting her hopes shattered time and time again. All she has to do is close her eyes and she’s lurched back to the memories of her losses; on the floor in her bathroom, in the hospital, and even at her place of work. No one knows what the internal mind of a woman who’d lost five babies and suffered so many let downs goes through. Can Hope ever truly survive memories such as these?

Chasing Hope: A Mother’s Story of Loss, Heartbreak and the Miracle of Hope

Last week, we decided to design some new European charm bracelets to honor the experience of babyloss, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Half of the profits from these bracelets will be donated towards a scholarship to help a local bereaved mother attend Stillbirthday’s Love Wildly event in Kansas City in December.

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“Miscarriage is a death in the heart of life, a death that happens inside the body of a woman. Sometimes a child just brushes the earth lightly, and is gone before the embryo is anything more than a few cells. Even so, there may already have been a strong connection, love, the beginning of hopes and dreams for the child. Later in a pregnancy, when the being has made itself known through kicks and a visible bump, a whole community may have already begun to make a place for it. Whenever a miscarriage happens, it is a loss that cuts deeply, and needs to be grieved…” –Jackie Singer (Birthrites)

via Birthrites: Miscarriage | Talk Birth.

New Baby!

While we were originally going to wait until after our ultrasound appointment on May 22 to officially Facebook-and-blog announce my pregnancy, when I visited my sister-in-law and brother in Kansas when I was 15 weeks along, we took some cute “cousins meet” pictures and decided to toss one of them on Facebook after all 🙂

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This is my 900th post on my blog and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a pregnancy update. I’ve been saving little notes of things I want to say and so forth, but time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin and now I’m 17 weeks pregnant and still have written anything about it!

I’m due October 27th. We actually weren’t planning to have any more children, but now we are, and it is amazing to me how quickly the family opens up to make room for a new person. The kids are very excited and we plan to find out whether the new baby is a sister or a brother on May 22nd. I was surprised to learn how many “scars” I retain from my past pregnancy losses and I find myself more anxious than I’d like to feel every day about the baby. This anxiety increased exponentially as I drew closer and closer to the point in pregnancy to when we lost our tiny son Noah in 2009. After I passed 15 weeks, I did, in fact, breathe easier, but there are still multiple times a day in which I think things like, “what if it’s heart stopped since yesterday?!” I thought since I did have a post-loss successful pregnancy AND because this pregnancy was a surprise that I’d feel more casual or relaxed about it instead of daily having, “I hope the baby is still alive!” thoughts, but apparently this is just what pregnancy feels like for me now.

At first I felt very shocked to be pregnant and I was upset about assorted things like these:

  • older than I’d like to be (35! Isn’t that “advanced maternal age”? Sheesh!)
  • weigh more than I ever have starting out a pregnancy (though, now at 17 weeks I’ve only gained two pounds, so this one wasn’t so bad after all)
  • bigger age gaps between kids than I want—in my own family of origin I didn’t really like having my siblings be nine and eleven years younger than me, it felt like a generational gap that has been hard for us to bridge in adulthood (though, now that my brother and his wife are having a baby and I am having one after them, we actually have a lot of life cycle stuff in common at last after all!). Now, Lann will be eleven before this baby is born and technically will be older than this baby than I am than my youngest sister.
  • on the same note, having watched my parents parent as “older” parents I noticed that it dragged on for a really, really long time—and their time having teenagers and having grandchildren overlapped in a way that seemed like it would be kind of not the funnest. I had my first baby when I was 24 and had been married for 5 years already, but my teenage siblings were still at home, so my parents went from having their own kids at home to having little grandchildren chaotically stumbling through the house to visit without ever having a “down time” where they were truly on their own. However, I also realize that after you have kids, you will never really ever be on your own again. Kids still seem to need their parents pretty much forever. I still need mine. My mom still needs her mom (even though she is gone now). Not in a sense of dependency, but in a sense of relationship.
  • feeling really quite done with parenting small children and ready to move on to having only bigger kids
  • not wanting to experience a clitoral tear again—I really, really feel like I’ve paid a pretty high body price for my existing kids and I felt like I was pretty done sacrificing that part of my body!
  • feeling very “distant” and far away from pregnancy/birth. I’d mentally closed that chapter of my life already.
  • having given away my maternity clothes and a lot of my baby stuff already
  • being a little embarrassed to have had a “surprise”—that is just not ME to have a surprise baby. My other kids were uber-planned-out tiny people!
  • not wanting to start over with toting a baby + caregiver to class with me while I teach
  • worried about being the primary wage-earner now that we took the leap into Mark being home with the rest of us (though our etsy shop has gratifyingly become a viable second income!). I won’t be able to teach in the fall session when the baby is due and then I always have an unpaid month off from Dec-Jan, which means we’re looking at an October-February period of relying only on me teaching a single online class for our primary source of income?! Yikes! Better start sculpting more birth art, pronto, Molly dear!


However, then these things happened too:

  • months before knowing I was pregnant Alaina started talking about her little sister “Lily.” AND, the boys started to say, “we think you should have another baby after all, mom!”
  • I watched the kids running up the driveway flying a kite (I have had previous driveway revelations!) and suddenly realized our family looked very small and like someone was missing.
  • a friend experienced a traumatic miscarriage at 11 weeks. I was just a little behind her in pregnancy at the time and immediately after I read her story, I went to the bathroom and there was some blood (not much and just brownish). While I now think it may actually have been “sympathy” spotting OR somehow a stored body-memory from my own miscarriages (or, just a coincidence), I knew in that moment that I want my new baby so much. I wasn’t upset about being pregnant after all, I really, really want this baby to join us.

Returning to the scars of pregnancy loss, for whatever reason from 4-15 weeks of this pregnancy, it was truly like my pregnancy with Noah was the only other pregnancy experience I could remember. It was weird. AND, what was also weird was how many overlapping “re-do” moments I experienced:

At 13 weeks I started to have symptoms of a UTI (same thing happened with Alaina at 13 weeks). My first ever UTI was during my pregnancy with Noah and what sent me to the doctor to find out he had no heartbeat. I have never stopped wondering if that UTI is why my baby died.

At 14w2d with this pregnancy I had a consultation with a prospective midwife. At 14w2d with Noah I had a midwife consultation too (and felt “scarred” from that experience too as it was a pretty unpleasant consultation AND I started to have a headache/cramping right after it). This midwife was very nice and we had a delightful consultation and a quick bond.

On May 1st, I went to the paint-your-own pottery place for my birthday because I really wanted to paint a “water bearer” figure I saw there earlier this year. As I painted with my friend, I realized I might not be going to finish it before they closed. I clearly remembered that the last time I painted anything there I was pregnant with Noah and talking with friends about pregnancy and birth. I didn’t finish that day and after he died, I could NEVER go back into that place to finish painting my plate (they sold it to different owners and it moved to a different building, so now I can go back, but not without remembering). Another friend went back and finished it for me (I will never forget that either. I don’t know sometimes if people realize how small, unusual, helpful things like that can have a big impact on a grieving mama). I use the plate, but I never forgot. This time I couldn’t not finish. It would be like a horrible déjà vu. I painted and painted, my friend wanted to leave (long drive, but she rode with me and thus was trapped!), we passed closing time, but I was almost done. So, I apologized to my friend and to the store owner and I stayed and finished it anyway. (My poor friend!) There was NO way I was going to leave that store without finishing my project…again.May 2014 048
On my birthday this year I was 14w5d pregnant. My miscarriage with Noah happened at 14w5d AND I was due on my birthday (2010 though).

For my birthday dinner, my mom made stroganoff (at my request) and it was only after I was sitting there happily eating it that I realized that is what I’d asked her to make after Noah too.

And, in one other weird overlap, his pregnancy and this current one are the only two I’ve ever been sick with. WHY?! This bothered me for weeks. Oh well, it has passed now and I’m still pregnant this time and the baby still has a very good heartbeat. I have an anterior placenta this time, so I don’t feel as much movement as I usually do by this time with other pregnancies, so I’m still relying on “life status updates” from my trusty Doppler. (I don’t even feel like apologizing or rationalizing my use of it. I’m desperately glad I have one. No regrets.)

(This may be the weirdest, illogical, many-thoughts-pregnancy-update post ever!)

Another thing I’m not interested in rationalizing or justifying is that I really, really like finding out the sex of the baby before birth. I am SO looking forward to our ultrasound this week. I can’t wait! I’m almost obsessed with it. In six pregnancies, I’ve only ever been right in my intuition about the sex once (I was really, really right though!). So, since this time I feel like it is a girl, I’m expecting it probably really is a boy (so, wait! Is that my “intuition,” which would really mean this IS a girl? LOL! ). Alaina is 100% certain it is a girl. She actually gets kind of mad when I say it might be a boy. She’s been saying it was a girl since before she knew I was actually pregnant (and, yes, if it is a girl, “Lily” is in the running for her name! It wasn’t on my radar before Alaina started saying it). Right before I found out I was pregnant, I went down to my place in the woods. I was upset with life in general—my kids were driving me NUTS, I was NOT having a good day. I was kind of talk-ranting to myself, including a mention of how nice it was that we weren’t going to have any more kids because I was SO DANG DONE. And…then I knew. I’m pregnant. I looked up and my eyes met the eyes of a raccoon sitting in the tree. Too weird. I’ve never before come eye to eye with a raccoon in the woods before! We stared and stared at each other. After I broke eye contact, I thought, I’m totally pregnant and it is totally a girl. I went inside and took an expired pregnancy test and it was positive (I bought a real one and took it in the movie theater bathroom at The Lego Movie a couple of days later). Here we go! 🙂

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Oh, and this literally is my 900th post on this blog, in case anyone thought I was exaggerating the number! 😉

Craft Camp and Mamoo Memories

Last weekend, we were at our family’s annual craft camp event in southern Missouri. My mom has been organizing this event for the past twelve years. When we began, I was pregnant with Lann and eventually I retired as the assistant director and Mark took on the role of the assistant (primarily on the technical side). Last year, the workshop was scheduled to begin the day my grandma died and since my mom was April 2014 061in California with her, we handled it and it was hard but we did it. This year, it began on the anniversary of her death and it is the last year that my mom is planning to be the director and organizer of the event. The night before we left for craft camp, my family had a mini memorial ceremony with my parents in which we hung up the prayer flag we made as a family and then had some chocolate chip ice cream and memory time together. Zander said he really thought Mamoo would get to see him grow up ( 😉 ) and the boys talked about how much she would like the bench at the zoo by Sea Lion Cove that my aunt and other family members placed in her honor. Alaina picked violets to put by the hydrangea. We remember how much she liked interesting animals and her knitting and her dolls and her travels and stories. I took her Hitty doll who traveled with her out of the case to hang out for a while. Because Mamoo lived so far away from us, it can sometimes be easy to think she’s still there working at the zoo and walking her little Bonnie dog. We miss her a lot.

Late last year I entered a contest from Portraits by Gessell for a charcoal drawing. We had to submit a picture and story and I submitted one about my grandma. I won (yay!) and on the anniversary of our loss she gave us this beautiful drawing. I absolutely love it and am so impressed by Gessell’s skill at capturing my grandma’s essence in this way. (I gave the drawing to my mom.)

April 2014 065 Since I am still teaching Working with Families, just as I was at this time last year, this week in class I showed my students some pictures of my grandma. They just finished an involved genogram assignment which is about three generations of their family history. One of my students brought pictures of his ancestors to show the preceding week and I figured they could handle seeing a couple from my family as well. I’d picked out four favorites to show them, but they surprised me with how interested in they were and how many questions they had, so I actually ended up opening the whole file folder of pictures that my aunt so carefully collected and prepared into a beautiful slideshow for my grandma’s memorial and showing them more pictures from the folder. They would say, “wait, back up! Show us that one. The one with the hat!” And, so I would and it was fun and nice and I was really happy to share the experience with my class. It felt right.

While at craft camp, we took a little visit to Round Spring with our friends. It was lovely (though my kids were obnoxiously bored immediately and I didn’t get to enjoy it much).

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While I was internet-free for three days, I did a lot of sculpting. I made a special request new cesarean mama:

April 2014 092Some miscarriage mamas:

April 2014 121And several others just because I felt like it!

April 2014 096April 2014 123April 2014 086We also updated our Mother Blessing amulet pendant:

April 2014 128

And, we added some pretty Healing Hands doula pendants to our etsy shop:

April 2014 042When we got home, I was surprised to get a royalty check from Amazon for sales of my miscarriage memoir. I had no idea any had actually sold after that first month! In an uncharacteristically unsupportive remark, Mark said: “are you sure that’s actually from selling your book and not reimbursement from one of those class-action lawsuit things?” 😉

I’m in the middle of planning an LLL Mother’s Day picnic on May 10th! We’re having a photo shoot fundraiser was well as family picnic and fun times.

And, in companion to my post from earlier this week, two new baby chicks hatched naturally with our broody mama today. I think some hatched on my birthday last year too (tomorrow).

I have more to write about, but it will have to wait until later I suppose!


Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage and Story-Sharing

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As birth professionals, we are often cautioned against sharing our personal stories. We must remember that it is her birth and her story, not ours. In doula and childbirth educator trainings, trainees are taught to keep their own stories to themselves and to present evidence-based information so that women can make their own informed choices. As a breastfeeding counselor too, I must remind myself to keep my own personal experiences out of the helping relationship. My formal education is in clinical social work and in that field as well we are indoctrinated to guard against inappropriate self-disclosure in a client-helper setting. In each environment, we are taught how to be good listeners without clouding the exchange with our own “baggage.” The messages are powerful—keep your own stories out of it. Recently, I have been wondering how this caution might impact our real-life connections with women?

via The Value of Sharing Story | Talk Birth.

This week I’ve been reminded several times about the power of sharing stories in a variety of contexts. I’ve also been thinking about miscarriage and miscarriage stories and how they need to be told.

I read a touching and heart-wrenching unexpected birth story of a baby at 19 weeks while the author was traveling in Mongolia:

But the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen. Sometimes, when I think about it, I still feel a dark hurt from some primal part of myself, and if I’m alone in my apartment when this happens I will hear myself making sounds that I never made before I went to Mongolia. I realize that I have turned back into a wounded witch, wailing in the forest, undone.

via Ariel Levy: “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” : The New Yorker.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends entered the miscarriage “club” that I so wish would gain no further members and wrote her Miscarriage Memories Footprints on Heart Charm, Pendant, Babylossvulnerable, visceral, story with raw intensity about the blood and grief of miscarriage:

Blood. As women we have a complex relationship with blood. The sight of our red-stained underwear can elate us, relieve us, annoy us, embarrass us, disappoint us, or devastate us depending on our life stage and intentions. The arrival of our period can bring the sweetest relief when we dread becoming pregnant. Conversely, it can lower the cruelest blow when our efforts to conceive have not been successful and we deeply long for a child. And somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, is the unfortunate experience of finding yourself ill-prepared for Aunt Flow in a public location…thank goodness for kind friends (or total strangers) who provide emergency tampons in such situations.

I have been thinking about blood a lot because I just had a terrifying, violent, and heartbreaking experience with my own blood. That sounds so hokey to say, that I “had an experience with my blood.” But I did. It was me and my blood. Doing battle. So much blood. There was no one else.

My baby died.

Three words. It only took me three words to tell you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, what happened to me. I wonder how many more words it will take to tell myself — the MAMA, the bearer of lost life — what happened.

via Losing Susannah | Peace, Love, & Spit Up.

Miscarriage stories often bring up the question of “when to tell” about pregnancies, with mothers lamenting that they told “too soon,” OR wishing that they had told, so they wouldn’t have to bear the loss with such aloneness. I retain enough scars from pregnancy loss, despite my successful pregnancy-after-loss experience too, that my initial reaction to anyone’s new pregnancy announcement is always fear, not joy. I worry every time I see a Facebook announcement that I will then see a sad follow-up a couple of weeks later—my main thought being, “what if she has to look back on this and be so sad?” However, that does not mean I think she shouldn’t tell, I just hold such hope in my heart for her that she doesn’t end up entering the club too.

I love this article about why it is okay to tell:

I’m angry that we live in a world where talking about miscarriage and first trimester pregnancy is still taboo. Where a woman must go to great lengths to hide her fatigue, nausea, sudden diet changes and pain, both emotional and physical, just to be polite.

Staying quiet for 12 weeks while you grow a human being inside of you is nothing short of completely insane.

Thanks in large part to social media, people have no problem opening up about personal details to those they might not have shared with in the past. The curtain of privacy has been pulled back, yet this one life-changing event remains shrouded until you reach a certain threshold.

I respect any woman’s decision to keep her pregnancy or miscarriage a secret, but I don’t think we should feel ashamed if we decide to share the news with whomever we choose, whenever we choose.

Take a look around you. Chances are, if you’re sitting in a room with five women of childbearing age, one of them has had (or will have) a miscarriage. And if you’re one of them, don’t be afraid to open up. You just might find comfort in the arms of a nurse, in the knowing nod of a trusted friend, or in kind words of an Internet stranger — the war stories of unlikely heroes.

via Why We Shouldn’t Have to Keep Pregnancy A Secret For the First Trimester | xoJane.

I was also deeply touched by this heartbreaking and very honest exploration of a mother’s experience in spending time with the body of her baby Thor who was stillborn:

This was when I understood: Thor was our baby. He did not belong to the hospital. He did not belong to the funeral home. He was ours.

So began my life with Thor. Thor pulled me to him like a magnet. I craved him. I never thought he was real, if by real you mean alive or in some way sentient after death. I just wanted to be with him. Not with him in spirit. With him in body.

I’d carried his body inside me for nine months; I’d felt it kicking for the last five or six of them. That body had forced its way out of me early in the morning of Nov. 12, 2008, and along the way it had turned from a living body to a dead body, but it was still Thor. Why should the body that was Thor transmogrify from a beloved member of the family, from a familiar part of my own body, into a repellent object just because it had died? This was my child.

via My stillborn child’s life after death –

And, this very honest, detailed, thorough miscarriage story:

I have a folder on my computer called “1st Pregnancy” and it is full of things that still make me sad. Pictures of my growing belly, a video of us telling our family the news that we were pregnant, this story, and the pictures we took from the miscarriage that happened one year ago today. I am a student of traditional midwifery, so my take on the experience, and the details I share may be different than most miscarriage stories. It is really long, really honest, and really raw, but I wanted to share it in its entirety, both to honor my experience, to share it with others that are going through similar stories themselves, and for those that support women (friends or clients) that are experiencing a pregnancy loss. This story was written in the days after the miscarriage, and I am thankful that I took the time and energy to put it all down. I hope that this story can serve as a resource for women going through pregnancy and baby losses, and that we at Indie Birth can provide support for these experiences as well.

via A Miscarriage Story.

These stories reminded me of my own past post:

“…When you miscarry, the body has already broken its ties with the baby, but I’d already put this child into my family in my imagination. That was what was hard to break…”

via Birthrites: Miscarriage | Talk Birth.

And, of a healing experience with story and sand tray therapy at the ICAN conference in St. Louis:IMG_8501

While it might be hard to see everything, I chose the bridge to symbolize my feeling of having crossed the bridge to the “other side”—meaning first the fact that after Noah and my second miscarriage, I felt separated from women who had not experienced loss by a bridge and as if I’d crossed over into new territory and left my old, happy, naive pregnant self behind (along with the other non-loss mamas. A little more about this bridge here). AND, that I also felt like with Alaina’s birth that I crossed a bridge into the unknown and to the end of the pregnancy-after-loss journey. Her birth represented the “other side” of PAL. So, at the end of the bridge I drew a question mark in the sand, representing all the questions I had to get past and over in order to get to my new baby.

via Sand Tray Therapy | Talk Birth.

We also need to remember how many women have stories they are holding close to their hearts and that our casual inquiries or thoughtless remarks about family size may leave further scars. This essay is about miscarriage at ten weeks and is a reminder why biting your tongue before casually remarking on someone else’s family size or fertility is a good idea:

During a recent girls’ night at a friend’s house, I sat cross-legged on the living room floor sipping coffee and catching up with four other women. One friend had just finished sharing the antics of her toddler who gave himself a haircut during quiet time when another friend announced the pending arrival of her third child—”a complete accident” as she described it. Then she turned her attention to me and assured me in front of the other women in the room, “It’s okay if you hate me. I understand.” I was stunned and mortified. I knew this was not her intent, but her statement minimized my loss in such a way that I felt small and petty for struggling with infertility.

via Bite Your Tongue | Brain, Child Magazine.

So, is there anything to say, or to do for those who are grieving? For people I know, I mail little gifts—usually jewelry—so that they know that their loss is real to me too and that they are not alone. I recently found this little handout on “how to help” (not miscarriage-specific, but for anyone going through a hard time):

Here’s the big thing I’ve learned: no two people need help in the same way. I’ve gotten to the point where I have very little pride and I’ll just take what goodness comes my way. But for other people, well intentioned but actually unhelpful help is just one more thing they have to deal with.

This is especially true when people express sympathy and then say, “Let me know if you need anything.”

via How to help – Reese Dixon.

I was also touched by this article by a bereaved mother about what she wishes people would say after the death of her daughter:

…Nothing at all when I start crying. I do it every day. It’s my normal and if you give me a minute or two, I’ll probably be able to put on my social mask again.

Some kind words to accompany those pictures of a new family member that you’re sharing with me. To bereaved parents, seeing a newborn can be a cruel shove back to the time when our world was safe, when our late child was an infant, like the one in the pictures you’re showing me, destined for a future full of love and full of light. An infant that blossomed into a gorgeous girl. A girl that left this world about 70 years too early…

via A Bereaved Mom’s Plea to the Nonbereaved: ‘I Wish You’d Say …’ – Mothering Community.

My own family is coming up on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. I’m teaching three classes again this session and it is a lot to manage at once. I felt pretty stressed in advance about my Fort Leonard Wood class, Working with Families, because last time I was teaching it one year ago was during my grandma’s sudden and brutal illness and it was unbelievably hard to be teaching about families while my own family was experiencing so much stress and sadness (and then also planning a trip to CA and helping with a memorial service, etc. while trying to grade papers and finish class.) Three weeks ago, on the first night of class, I found myself acknowledging the upcoming anniversary to my class and sharing a story about my mom texting me while singing to my grandma at her bedside, which prompted a brief tears-in-front of class episode which caught both my students and me by surprise. I feel like there is “work” to do here in my own family during this anniversary month and yet the hustle and bustle of kids and responsibilities is making it hard to settle down and sit with it. 😦

Thesis Tidbits: Birth as an Initiation

“We owe it both to our children and to the world, to conceive, birth and welcome our children with as much love and prayerfulness as possible.” –Jackie Singer (Birthrites)

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory rite for a woman.” –from the book MotherMysteries

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

I recently finished reading a short book called Return to the Great Mother, which is very specifically focused on giving birth as an initiatory event. It includes a variety of birthing women’s voices and experiences with accessing the energy and wisdom of the “great mother,” be it archetype, an inner resource, or one face of the Sacred. The author, Isa Gucciardi, writes:

Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately tied change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.

Today, many people going through initiations and many people managing initiations do not have a clear understanding of the nature of the power and vulnerability that is at the heart of initiation. Initiates must render themselves vulnerable to initiatory processes in order for initiations to become complete, and the power in that vulnerability must be managed carefully and thoughtfully. Most importantly, for an initiation to be successful, that power and vulnerability must be safeguarded and dedicated to the initiate.

The process of meeting an obstacle and overcoming it in order to ultimately gain greater insight and power is described by Joseph Campbell as the “hero’s journey.” The “hero’s journey” is an initiatory experience. Every woman takes this journey when she gives birth and it can be the primary initiation a woman undergoes in the course of her life.

Often a woman encounters herself in an entirely new way during the process of giving birth. She may encounter the effect of traumas long buried, or she may encounter fear long denied. She may also discover power deep within herself that she had never imagined.

When the processes of birth are allowed to take their course, a woman with the proper care has the opportunity to come to terms with whatever may arise. In doing so, she may experience a shift into a new way of being or understanding. Yet, when the birth process is interrupted, or not properly held, the power of the initiation is often lost or distorted… (p. 10)

We know that women do not always have full and free choice when it comes to decisions about their birthing bodies and childbearing years…so, how does this impact the initiatory process? Isa writes:

In modern births, the power of the initiation of birth is often co-opted by doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and hospitals. It is also co-opted by the fear of pain and the influence of friends and family. It is difficult for women to hold onto the power of the initiation of birth under these circumstances. The unfortunate implication here is that the subsequent initiations of women interrupted in this way will be affected by their inability to hold onto the power of their birthing process.

Based on the level of interruption of the birth initiation caused by unnecessary interventions in the birthing process today, it seems reasonable to suggest that many women experience incomplete initiations when giving birth…

(Personally, I would clarify that it is not that women are unable to hold onto the power of the birthing process, but rather that it is often systematically stripped from them.)

Each of my children’s birth experience was an initiatory event for me, but in varying ways. With my first, it was the initiation to motherhood, the mystery and anticipation of giving birth. The crucible moment for me with him was actually my journey through the harrowing landscape of postpartum. With my second son, giving birth rapidly and with great intensity and power, the initiation felt like it was in letting go and hanging on for the ride—letting my mind stop and my body go. With my third birth, which was my first miscarriage, the initiation was in the physically grueling and bloody aftermath of his birth and then the broad, deep, unknown, transformative path of grief and change. I still feel as if this was one of the most powerfully initiatory experiences of my life. (And, I did have an encounter with one face of the great mother.) After Alaina’s birthday this week, I was talking to my husband about my memories of this last birth and telling him that I do not review the details of her birth with the same sense of power or initiation as the births of my other children. It doesn’t hold that same “touchstone” energy for me as the births of my boys—experiences that I continued to draw strength from as I went on into other events in my life. I don’t return to her birth for strength or courage the way I remember returning to the births of each of my sons. And, then I said it was because with her, the pregnancy was the initiation. The long, long, path of pregnancy after loss and all the fear and all the hope and all the strain of feeling the feelings and doing it anyway. Her birth itself was the moment of relief. The end of a trial, rather than the triumph or peak experience of the births of my first two babies. So, while of course I still carry powerful and potent memories of her birth as well, it was the journey of pregnancy that holds the talismans of initiation for me.

In her classic book Shakti Woman, Vicki Noble describes giving birth as a central shamanic experience and perhaps the root of all shamanism:

“I believe I underwent an initiation of the most ancient variety, birth as a shamanic experience, the central act of female shamanism—the quintessential act that offers a woman a completed experience of facing and moving through her fears to the other side. It isn’t that birth is the only way for a woman to experience this initiation—many women climb mountains or face other kinds of physical endurance tests and also come through it reborn into their power. But biologically birth is a doorway, a given for most women on the planet. It is fundamental opportunity to become empowered. Most of us giving birth today do not have the full experience, which is co-opted and distorted beyond recognition, changed from an active process into something that is done to us, as if we don’t know how to do it ourselves. Reclaiming the right to birth in our own instinctual way is a shamanic act of courage that has unfortunately become as remote to us as our ability to fly through the night in the form of an owl or heal the sick with the power of the drum. It wouldn’t hurt if we began to think of our birthing and child rearing as central parts of our shamanic work…” (p. 223).

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as a Shamanic Experience | Talk Birth.

I just finished a new sculpt for a medium sized version of our classic birth goddess pendant and Mark cast and finished some of them last night. I woke up this morning with a phrase from a past piece of poetry floating through my mind over and over:

Soft belly January 2014 088
no longer bearing children
I am pregnant with myself
ripe with potential,
possibility, power
I incubate my dreams
and give birth to my vision…

I also thought about what I hope to communicate to others through my sculptures and when I took the new pendant down to the woods with me, a little song emerged to go with her:

Birth mama
birth goddess

reaching out
to join the circle of mothers

feeling her way
finding her place
in the web of women

Birth mama January 2014 050
birth goddess

hold strong
hold steady

make way for baby
make way for baby

Body opens
heart opens
hands open to receive

Birth mama
birth goddess

she’s finding her way
she’s finding her way…

Disclosure: I received a complimentary digital copy of the book for review purposes.

Birthrites: Miscarriage

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Miscarriage is a death in the heart of life, a death that happens inside the body of a woman. Sometimes a child just brushes the earth lightly, and is gone before the embryo is anything more than a few cells. Even so, there may already have been a strong connection, love, the beginning of hopes and dreams for the child. Later in a pregnancy, when the being has made itself known through kicks and a visible bump, a whole community may have already begun to make a place for it. Whenever a miscarriage happens, it is a loss that cuts deeply, and needs to be grieved…

–Jackie Singer

This quote from Birthrites touched me and made me think of the many women I’ve known who have walked the long, long path of grief. Singer then goes on to share some words from a mother of miscarriage:

“…When you miscarry, the body has already broken its ties with the baby, but I’d already put this child into my family in my imagination. That was what was hard to break…”

It my own experience, my body letting go of the baby was profoundly meaningful. My body’s later reluctance to let go of the placenta—to finally finish breaking the physical tie to the baby—was pretty traumatic. Acknowledging my own miscarriages through ritual, writing, ceremony, and memorial jewelry was very important to me and while these experiences are now past and do not hold the same fresh, raw, intensity as they once did, they are still inextricably a part of me and have shaped my identity and outlook today. I am always on the lookout for miscarriage resources for others and always, always take note when the experience of miscarriage is honored and included in a book.

As previously shared from Wild Feminine

The red of my blood confirmed what my body already knew; miscarriage is birth and death simultaneously. Miscarriage is ecstatic connection and unquenchable loss. The uterus dilates and contracts, as in the process of birth. In its wake follows something ancient, something from the hearts and lives of the grandmothers and women who have walked before, pouring forth from the uterus…

via Wild Feminine: Miscarriage Wisdom | Talk Birth.

Some other past posts about honoring the experience of miscarriage:

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Footprints symbol that held such healing for me and that I make sure to keep available affordably in my etsy shop.

Honoring Miscarriage

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage Care

Miscarriage and Birth

Blog Circle: Tender Mercies, Unexpected Gifts

The Amethyst Network February Blog Circle ~ Sharing Our Stories: A Confusing Early Miscarriage Story

This post is part of a short series of posts from the book Birthrites by Jackie Singer. The first was about ritual and the second about birth as a rite of passage and the third about cesareans.