Pregnancy and Infant Loss- What Helps and What Hurts

By Jessica Martin-Weber
This post has been made possible by the generous partnership of Tula Baby Carriers, Ameda, Inc., and Earth Mama Angel Baby.

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The way we respond to someone’s grief and suffering usually is about making ourselves more comfortable even if the intent is to comfort them. The key to offering true support is empathy, and to cultivate empathy we must first listen and sit with the pain. It is only then that we can come to understand that caring isn’t about fixing but rather, comforting. There is no way to take the hurt away, we can only be there through the hurt.

October is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, a time set aside to educate on these issues. When that month ends, though, our awareness should continue as it does for those who carry the awareness of their loss(es) throughout the year. For those mourning loss, there is more than a month of processing their grief and while we may question our time and emotional bandwidth to be available, when someone we know and care for has journeyed the road of loss, we have an opportunity to make a difference and confirm that they and their loss matters.

Awareness is always just the first step, the second is action. To help us move our awareness into action, we are sharing what parents who have experienced loss say are the most and least helpful ways to act and respond to loss. You don’t have to have experienced similar loss to offer empathetic support and care, we’re all capable even if we’re unsure as to how.

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Understanding

In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, J. William Worden explains that miscarriage is seen as a socially negated loss, that for some to even view such a loss as death can bring on guilt. Devan McGuinness, Founder of perinatal loss support website, UnspokenGrief.com and a loss mother herself, on the impact that discovering a friend grieved their own loss saying it: “helped me process my grief by talking with someone who understood and I felt that my grief was more “normal” – meaning that I wasn’t overreacting in feeling such loss and sadness.”

The loss of an infant is also a taboo subject, the fear of causing pain leads to silence and often loneliness in the mourning process. Worden’s Grief Theory describes grief as a U shape. The mourning processes takes us down into deep part of the U, a place that can be lonely and it is better if we can make the journey with others. We have to resist the urge to build a shoddy rope bridge across to avoid going down through the grief. Such an action only disconnects us.

Kari Bundy, founder of the infant loss support organization, Mason’s Cause which offers empathetic grief support with other grieving parents as well as practical information such as how to plan a funeral, shares that she and her husband felt alone when their son Mason died of SIDS at 4 months old and finding practical informative support as well as the emotional space to mourn was overwhelming.

Melinda Olson, founder of BabyLossComfort.com and founder, owner of Earth Mama Angel Baby, labor and delivery nurse, mother and grandmother, has spent decades now supporting families through loss: “It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby. Bodies can be healed, but as with all other major wounds,  a scar remains. The same is true for grief. We don’t try to take that pain away, but to hold her hand through it. It’s never easy, but it’s always an honor.” Melinda offers a concise list on what to say to grieving families here.

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What Helps – Remember Them

Jessica: Remember the child. Let the parents know you think of him or her. Trust me, you aren’t reminding them of their loss, it’s on their minds already anyway, but it’s nice to know someone else thinks of your child.

Leah: Don’t forget. Mark the date of loss on your calendar for years to come. What a glowing feeling it would bring me if just SOMEONE remembered my daughter’s birthday.

Kina: It really hurt that my hubby didn’t remember the due date or the date of the miscarriage. It made me feel like I was the only one who cared about my baby.

Tiffany: Speak my daughter’s name, it may bring a tear to my eye but you didn’t remind me she died. (I could never forget) but you saying her name means you remember she lived and that means the world to me. I fear the day when I’m long gone that her memory will be forgotten.

Vivian: Respect my ways of honoring and join me in them. Gifts are nice but your presence matters more.

Bridgette: I have a few friends who light a candle every year on my son’s birthday and send me a picture of their candle in his honor. It means more than I can say that others care for my son too.

 

Question, Wait, and Be Present – Don’t give advice, give availability

Tori: It meant the world when a friend came to sit with me/help take care of my son so I wouldn’t be alone while waiting out a miscarriage.

Anna: I really appreciated those who just listened. I needed to talk about it without any advice or words of comfort… There ARE no words of comfort.

Kara Glenn: Having friends and family check in, bring dinner, invite us over… all of these things make us feel loved, and keep us from feeling isolated.

Dykibra: My advice: ask people what they want. My mother was great and gave me the space I needed.

Dawnn: Helpful? Food. It’s the last thing I wanted to think about.

Amber: The best things was supportive hugs. Having someone call me daily to tell me they loved me.

Alyssa: The most helpful was my best friend helping with the details of planning my daughter’s funeral and understanding my anger about the investigation by the authorities. (SIDS usually requires an investigation.) She let me cry and vent whenever I needed to.

Marinas: It was helpful to hear that It’s okay to be angry right now. There’s nothing fair about your baby dying.

Samone: I lost two pregnancies at 20 weeks. What was not helpful was people saying that I was lucky because the baby would have been born with a deformity. Seriously, I just wish people had said that they were sorry.

“It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby. Bodies can be healed, but as with all other major wounds, a scar remains. The same is true for grief. We don’t try to take that pain away, but to hold her hand through it. It’s never easy, but it’s always an honor.” 
~Melinda Olson

What Hurts

There’s no perfect way to support through such grief but there are ways that are hurtful that a little bit of awareness can help us avoid. Loss parents shared some things that are NOT helpful to say:

Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.

It must have been God’s plan.

At least you can have children/At least you already have a child(ren).

Oh yes I know how you feel, my friend had the same thing…

Well it was probably deformed.

You’re not the only person it happens to (because somehow that means I shouldn’t be upset).

Don’t dwell on it.

Charissa pointed out: I don’t need a distraction, telling me I need to keep busy so I was distracted made me feel like it was wrong for me to be sad.

Kara Glenn, mom and Tula Baby Carriers team member talked with me about the loss of her son, Oliver, her daughter’s twin, at 4 months old. You can read her powerful and moving story more in depth here (including loss after infertility). A true empath, Kara shared the conflicting range of emotions she experiences in grieving one child while being present with another. She’s very understanding of the struggle others face when trying to offer comfort.

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Kara’s twins, Avery and Oliver together before Oliver’s passing.

“I do know that people mean well. The death of a baby is a hard thing for people to talk about. It makes people say awkward things. I really try my best to shake it off when something rubs me the wrong way. I just don’t have the emotional capacity right now to focus on it.”

Still, she says, there are some statements that make it harder.

“When they say: ‘At least you have Avery.’ I know they mean well, but by saying that, it makes me feel that I’m not already thankful and grateful that I have my sweet baby girl. Like it’s not possible to both grieve and mourn the death of my precious four-month-old boy, and love his twin sister with every ounce of my being. Another comment that can be hurtful is when people say, ‘I don’t know how you are functioning, I’d be a mess.’ This automatically makes me feel guilty for functioning… for just surviving. Believe me, I don’t know how I’m doing it either. To assume that someone isn’t struggling just because you see them doing something normal like grocery shopping is just plain insensitive and hurtful. There are days when putting one foot in front of the other is the hardest thing in the world. On those days, you likely won’t see me. On those days, the groceries can wait.”

Whether you’ve experienced pregnancy or infant loss personally or want to be able to support others grieving their child, there is no expectation that comfort be offered perfectly. Trying means a lot and doing so with sensitivity and awareness makes a difference. Journey into the deepest part of the U with others by listening and empathizing as you go and you can be a part of making a difference. You don’t have to fix it, just offer comfort through it.

An extensive list of resources for information and support through infant and pregnancy loss a can be found here and for ideas to create pathways of remembrance, see here.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.

 

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Paths of Remembrance That Honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss

By Jessica Martin-Weber

This post made possible by the support of My Baby’s Heartbeat Bear

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Content Note: infant and pregnancy loss discussed.


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Loss is profound and deep, that’s part of what makes it loss. The loss of a child amplifies that profound depth of pain in ways that are nearly tangible as loving as deeply as the extraordinary ordinary love a parent has for their children makes them vulnerable to extraordinary pain. Love is always a risk. A beautiful, breathtaking, agonizing risk. One worth taking, as terrifying as it is.

There is no balm for the rawness left after losing a child, no set of steps to follow to make things right again. Grief may have some known stages but each individual journey is unique and the path isn’t always clear. How one experiences grief and processes loss may look drastically different from another’s. The manner in which we move through grief and process loss isn’t a reflection of how real or deep our grief or our love is, it is a reflection of how we personally process, our personalities, and our needs. There isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, or more or less “real” ways to journey through such pain. It is all real and it is all personal. After 4 pregnancy losses, I have experienced how different it can be from one to the next.

Individual paths of remembrance may vary greatly. For some, the ways they remember will be internal with little external manifestation. For others, the external honoring helps center the internal grief, an extension of the love, joy, grief, and pain of their loss. What matters most is the significance to those for whom the memorials provide connection and comfort and while some would never visit such a memorial, others will find healing in something they can touch and see.

Throughout history people have intrinsically understood the need for memorials, external physical representations of the significant losses in our society be it through war, natural disaster, or other tragedy. We build memorials, commission sculptures, fashion fountains, mount plaques, and more to preserve the memory of and respect significant loss in our societies. These memorials provide connections, anchoring points not only for our grief but also for our collective memories, drawing our communities together reminding us not only of those lost but also the importance of having such connections in spite of the risk of great pain. Such memorials honor love and life as well those we’ve risked loving in this life.

So it is with personal loss. Without even realizing it we construct memorials for ourselves even on a psychological level. There is a reason we can feel the anniversary of a loved one’s death approaching without even checking the calendar, our bodies remember. For some creating a tangible expression can be a powerful step in healing, a sort of remembrance path to travel, not to get over their loss but rather to connect with it and embrace the significance. In embracing our emotions and very real loss we can fully grieve, releasing ourselves.

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7 Remembrance paths that honor pregnancy and infant loss

Naming. If your child’s name wasn’t already known to you, consider selecting a name to honor their life and connect you with them as a person. Having a name for the one you’re grieving connects us with the realness of our grief and with the personhood lost. Whether you choose to display and publicly share your child’s name or to keep it to yourself, your heart will hold the name close in comfort and the reality of your loss won’t go unnamed.

Sharing. Society’s discomfort with personal grief tends to silence those that speak of pregnancy and infant loss, it was years before I learned that I had a great aunt and great uncle twins that died in infancy because nobody ever spoke of them. When I asked my grandmother about it she told me nobody ever wanted to talk about them but she thought of them often, just kept her thoughts to herself. We sat together that afternoon and memorialized the relatives I never knew who held a special place in my grandma’s heart. Speaking of those we’ve lost is a powerful way to honor and remember them. Sharing our stories of loss connects us with others and comforts both those sharing and those receiving.

Images. With pregnancy and infant loss we may not have very may still images or video given the short time our children were with us but any images we do have or ones we create are not only a cathartic connecting point for us as their parents, these images can invite others to connect as well and celebrate the joy that was, honoring the pain that is. Sonograms, bump photos, pregnancy announcements, birth photos, whatever we do have may be  Be they kept in a private place or displayed in a special place in your home or a unique framing, the images of the children we have lost can give us a focal point in our grieving and remembering.

Audio. As with images, we may not have much by way of audio of the children gone too soon but the sounds of those we love are amongst the most difficult memories to hold onto. Any audio we do have, a recording of the first heartbeat doppler or ultrasound, the sounds of our own voices sharing our happy expecting news, first cries, newborn gurgles and coos, whatever it is we have, these sounds may be comforting evidence of the life of one we love. With today’s technology we can memorialize those precious sounds in special picture frames, card, or even a stuffed animal to hear whenever we need to.

Green and Growing. One of my dear friends lost a child she never got to hold other than in her womb. After a grueling delivery experience, she and her partner decided to plant a tree with a garden stone bearing their child’s name and the date as well as words that she had associated with the pregnancy up until the time of loss. That was 7 years ago. Today this beautiful tree has grown solid and tall, a climbing tree for the other children in the family and neighborhood. Under the tree planted in their child’s honor picnics, parties, life and love unfold regularly. “Riley’s Tree” has become a special connecting anchor not only for my friend but for their community, a beautiful tribute to Riley.

Rituals. Lighting a candle at certain times, touching a special stone, telling certain stories on certain dates, playing a specific song, and wearing certain articles give a sense of security much like the environmental ritual of seasons.

Personalized. During pregnancy I select an animal for my baby. Everything I purchase and make for them with that animal is theirs and what I intend to save as heirlooms. For the pregnancies I’ve lost they become talking points with my surviving children. The stuffed puppy, the little robin, they were bought with love for a baby that we never got to play with.

No matter how you honor the memory of a child you have loved gone from this world too soon, the greatest memorial that can ever be is to live fully, honoring those we have loved and lost by living well, daring to go on risking our hearts by connecting, loving, and remembering.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.

 

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When There Is No Glow- Nymphai and Nurturing Our Own Healing

by Jessica Martin-Weber
I have a tattoo on my upper right arm that starts at a three pointed scar on my inner arm and wraps up and around my shoulder. A twisty, viney type of tree with swirls, knots, and sharp looking points. The tree looks like it has grown around many obstacles and against the wind. It isn’t a tall, straight tree, it is a tree with gnarls and curves, marked by it’s struggle to survive. A beautiful tree that springs from a scar in the soil. Flapping their wings, 6 birds that may have just been resting on the curved and hunched branches of this tree are taking flight. Delicate but obviously powerful, these birds are majestic and strong. I dreamed of this tattoo for years, shared the vision with my tattoo artist Colin Kolker, sketched many variations with my husband Jeremy, and eventually Colin captured the essence in the design that is permanently etched into my arm. This tattoo means so much to me it is now woven into Tekhni fabric to carry babies. Find your opportunity to enter in a Tekhni giveaway at the end of this article!
This is why.
When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

“You look terrible!”  There was concern in her voice, not malice. I did look terrible, frightening even. I could have been auditioning to be an extra in Schindler’s List. I knew I looked bad. Not wanting to explain much, I tell her I’m ok, I’m just pregnant. She looks horrified and whispers “I thought pregnant women glowed.”

No, nope, nu-uh. Ok, well, some pregnant women glow. Maybe even most. I don’t glow. Unless you count the green tinged pallor I sport in pregnancy a glow.

In my head pregnancy is going to be this serene existence of light, one with the earth, I’ll feel like a goddess, my body humming with the growing life within and a sense of wisdom and peace filling me. It radiates from me as I float along my every day life where everything suddenly has more meaning. I had expectations.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happens.

Instead of floating, I crash to the ground in a heap of extra saliva and a stomach that rejects all food and liquid all day, every day. This causes my skin to lose elasticity, my body fat to burn off quickly, my kidneys to release toxins, my eyes to sink deeper into my skull, the tiny blood vessels in my face and neck to burst, my complexion to take on a green yellow hue, my head to spin when I shift my weight, my other organs to work harder as they dehydrate, and my veins to go into hiding so that every IV attempt results in bruises the size of plums up and down my arms. I don’t even know how to tell youHyperemesis Gravidarum.

Decidedly not glowing.

Every pregnancy I hoped the results would be different. There were plans, you see. Plans for how I would eat, how I would prepare for my coming baby. Plans for a level of physical activity and creativity bursts. Plans for how my baby and I would grow together, healthy and strong. Plans for how my friends and family would share in my pregnancy, how we would celebrate and enjoy the journey. Plans for how everything would go the way it was supposed to go. Plans that never came to be.

Because no glowing.

I hate being pregnant.

Cue a new glow, those fuming at me for not fulfilling my role of goddess mother because I dare to admit I don’t love pregnancy. Even Kim Kardashian, who people love to hate and hate to love, can’t state that pregnancy isn’t an experience she enjoys without encountering more vitriol than normal.

 

Pregnant mothers are supposed to glow and love pregnancy.

You can fail being a mother before your kid is even outside of your body.

All because you didn’t. feel. the. glow.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

We have a romanticized version of all aspects of motherhood upheld in our society. A version that is always glowing, radiating from some isolated pedestal of unattainable idealism. While sometimes we may feel like a goddess in our mothering, for many of us those luminescent images require metaphorical if not literal special lighting, makeup, shape wear, and most elusive of all, a nap. In other words, the river goddess nursing her baby in the stream may be beautiful and remind of us some inner peace we’ve made contact with a time or two but for many of us it is heavily staged.

Most of my moments in parenting haven’t been glowing. Some of them I was barely surviving.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

It can be crushing to realize that your experience with conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding aren’t a breathtaking image of serenity, that your reality isn’t naturally incandescent. When all you want is to glow, to radiate, to enjoy the path that gets you to your baby but what you get is near destruction, it can be hard to separate the journey from your own personhood. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the journey from the gift. There were times when my baby felt like my enemy, my torturer, my reminder of my failure. Those times were dark and twisted. But they were nothing compared to the times when I felt my baby suffered because I just. couldn’t. glow. The agony that my babies paid the price was by far the most painful to endure.

  • Infertility.
  • Pregnancy loss.
  • Pregnancy complications.
  • Birth trauma.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Financial stress.
  • Disrupted bonding.
  • Feeding difficulties.
  • Postpartum depression.

Whatever it is, the grief is real, the suffering is profound. And the shaping is valuable.

Even if you aren’t glowing.

Specially if you aren’t glowing.

Poopins front wrap Tekhni Nymphai

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

When there is no glow, particularly when there is no glow when pure radiance is what is expected, how do you go about being honest with yourself and others? And how do you start to heal while accepting what it is?

Here’s what has helped me.

Journal. Write it all down. The reality, the struggle, the loneliness, the fear that the fact that you feel this way or have experienced these things means you’re not enough. All of it, write it down.

Cry. Yep, cry. You’re going to anyway. Give yourself permission and cry. And don’t dismiss it as hormones or being a woman or overreacting or whatever. Cry because you’re human and humans cry when something hurts. It is not weakness to cry, it is a strength to stop pretending.

Art. Whether you enjoy expressing yourself through art or not, drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, dancing, playing music, you name it, artistic expression can be incredibly cathartic because sometimes words alone just art enough to full get those feelings out. And taking in someone else’s artistic expression can be just as powerful.

Talk. You may be afraid that people may not like hearing your journey because it isn’t warm and fuzzy but more often than not sharing your story will actually help someone processing their own glowless experience. That sharing can help you and them. Be it in person or online, opening up about our struggles builds community that values authenticity and that can actually help save lives.

Commemorate. An event, big or small, to honor the journey (but please don’t do a balloon release, it’s littering and hard on animal friends); a special purchase that holds a lot of meaning for you; a ritualistic occasion that connects deeply with you; a meaningful plant/tree/shrub planted in your yard as a hopeful yet gentle reminder; compile mementos in a book; create something unique that captures the profound nature of your journey.

The tree on my arm represents me, the birds my daughters. My tattoo turned Tekhni woven wrap, named for the nymphs of Greek mythology who nurture nature, has helped me glow. From reclaiming my body to having a beautiful woven wrap that represents so much healing, hope, and promise in nurturing that surrounds other moms and their precious children, I have found a glow I can’t contain. May we all glow with honesty and hope.

When pregnancy isn't glowing

Photo Credit: Meghann Buswell, Your Street Photography.

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Thank you for reading my story, I would love to hear yours as well. Comment here sharing your glowing or not-so-glowing experience with parenting, how you’ve found healing, and how you commemorate that experience.

If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story with photos, your bio, and the subject #MyStoryMatters to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Jessica Martin-WeberDrawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com,co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and co-creator of OurStableTable.com, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book and a children’s book.

 

Enter for your chance to win a ring sling with a pattern based on my tattoo. This beautiful Tekhni Wovens ring sling in Clover is yours for the winning! Enter below:

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When Lipstick Is My Lifeline: Coping With Mental Illness

by Kileah McIlvain

I stood in front of the newest display of NYX Suede lipsticks at the local beauty store, hands trembling from the newest round of psych meds I’d started that week as I picked out the last shade of Stone Fox…my newest most-coveted lip color. I carefully placed it in my shopping bag, already running through eyeshadow shades I’d be wearing to match it. My husband was in the car with 4 cranky and probably hungry kids. But this 5 minutes? It was mine. Even if it was 5 minutes over some damn grey lipstick. It was mine. My shaky hands browsed the sample aisle before I meandered my way back to the front counter to complete my purchase and walked back into the screaming hurricane that was my minivan. I sighed. I could finish this day. I could maybe do it. For 5 minutes, I didn’t contemplate death, or removal of myself, or running away, or that I was having to wean because some medication was supposed to make me not crazy, or the crazy burning pain over every inch of my skin that wouldn’t go away, or overwhelming floods of anxiety. Five Minutes. It. Was. MINE. 

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You do what you can. You say the words. You make the motions.

You feel like like a broken shell. Fragile. Incomplete. Lost.

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This is what I feel like. A lot.

You feel like a muddy flood. Nothing is clear. Everything is swirling.

Being co-responsible for bringing 5 precious lives into the world, 4 of which are living, in the midst of figuring out how to wade through the deep waters of mental illess and a yet-to-be-diagnosed myalgia condition means I don’t have a lot of control. Things come out, feelings wash over every inch of me and it feels ugly. It’s there. It isn’t pretty. It’s part of my journey. It’s my story.


I can’t control the pain. I can’t control the way the new medication I’m trying out makes me feel like shit. Or how many times I have to say no, or flake out because I know that if I expend one more bit of energy…I’ll be paying for it for the next week. My body, my time, my soul, is a precious commodity around here. To myself, my partner, and my kids.

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My first blueberry bush.

So? You can’t control the ocean. Sometimes you can’t even find the damn shovel to dig yourself out of the pit you find yourself in. But? I CAN hold a small container of lipstick. Grasp the small tube and spread it around on my lips and try my best to make an even line with shaky medicated fingers. Because it’s a small thing. But it’s something that I can have a say in. I can tell it where it goes. I can make it as dark or bright or outlandish or as grey as I want to. I can use this lipstick as a badge on my face that declares “I AM STILL HERE. I AM ME. AND THIS ILLNESS INSIDE OF ME WILL NOT CONSUME ME. NOT TODAY.”

It may be something else entirely different for you. Sinking your fingers into the earth and growing seeds. Knitting and stroking and spinning beautiful things from frail fibers woven and twisted together. It may be speaking healing words into a fragile heart, or stretching warm silent arms around the shuddering shoulders of a grieving friend. It may be watching your baby’s breathing as she sleeps…blissfully unaware of the harshness and darkness that life can bring.

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My littlest hobbit. Napping.

Whatever that thing is. Small or great. Cling to it. Whether it’s a tube of lipstick, or a piece of yarn, or a sweaty curl on your newborn’s head, or a plate of food handed to someone who’s belly is empty. Cling to it.

Because really? It isn’t so much about the thing you cling to.

It’s that you are clinging.

So cling, dear heart. And when your hands and arms and soul are tired, we will cling together. 

Because? You are always, and always will be, enough

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Stone Fox lips. Mine.

 

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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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#MyStoryMatters: Monica and Molly- Loss And Renewal

Trigger Warning This post talks about loss.

 

We all have a story to tell and each of our stories can be the change this world needs.

My story is long. It is full of life’s threads that have made me who I am today.

One day, one of those threads came undone.

It put my family on a path that would forever change our course.

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The author and her family today.

We were expecting our fourth child and second daughter, her nursery was not yet planned and her shower was a few weeks away. After all, she was the last one we had planned on having and I was not quite as particular about things anymore. At the time I was a full time nurse, we had just moved from Florida to Georgia and I had worked in Pediatrics at the hospital for 10 years, and did other jobs in nursing for 6 more years. So I was a confident pregnant momma not expecting anything to happen to this precious baby we were so thankful for.

It was Christmas time and I was 28 weeks along. Customarily we would never travel over Christmas because we liked the kids to wake up in their home on Christmas morning, but this year we decided to go back to Florida to see the family. Early morning Christmas Eve, sitting in my parent’s bathroom my cramps began. Then the pressure and bleeding started. I had never experienced any difficulties in past pregnancies, and because I was a nurse, I knew too much already. I was in labor.

I cried for God to stop it, I cried out for my husband who was still sleeping, and we were heading to the hospital while the house was quiet and still.

The particular thing about nurses is that you cannot tell us anything we don’t

already think we know. You also can’t argue with us. It’s a curse. (Much like a baby-wearing cloth diapering momma!) When the emergency room doctor told me I was not in labor, he quickly regretted it and sent us up to labor and delivery. Mommas know their bodies.

The ultrasound machine told us everything we needed to know. Molly’s tiny heart had stopped in transit to the unit. My world started to crash in at that very instant. I did a mental checklist over and over, but the results were the same. I could not think of how or why this would happen, I did everything “right”!

We delivered our beautiful little blonde headed baby girl about thirty minutes later and we held her and kissed her and told her to tell Jesus we said hello, and we held her some more. We knew she was serving our mighty God. Her life humbled me. Life’s fragility. Its beauty. Its cruelty. It’s really humbling.

Months later, I was researching stillbirths and I repeatedly came across studies done in other countries about harmful chemicals and how they permeate through our skin and they are found in breast milk and our blood. How these harmful chemicals can cause changes in DNA and can alter our hormones, which regulate every process in the human body and are especially imperative to the development of a fetus. I read how some harmful chemicals are changing the health of sperm, reproductive organs and how others are carcinogenic. I dug deeper, researching studies and reports. Calling experts in the field that would talk to me to help me understand this research I discovered.

I learned that in the United States there are 80,000 chemicals approved for use in our products but they only tested 200 of those chemicals for human safety. Those tests were done on men, not women or children. Then I found a cord blood study done by a physician on his own granddaughter’s umbilical cord blood, her daddy was also a physician. This study concluded that there were many hazardous chemicals in cord blood and it was one of hundreds of studies that proved this. Our babies are losing a battle they don’t have the choice to fight.

That was it for me. I knew I needed to let everyone who would listen know that they had to start taking charge of their own bodies and know what was going not only in them, but on them as well. After all, we all know our skin is the largest organ, but many people do not realize that if the skin’s pH is altered, the harmful chemicals will go through that skin-blood barrier. Harmful household chemicals and pesticides are found in breast milk, our urine, and blood.

I got a huge black trash bag out of the garage and began throwing away everything under our kitchen sink, our laundry room cabinet, and our bathroom cabinets that was not “natural.” I began researching the products I had left, and most of them followed the conventional items into the trash. The word “natural” is so misused in today’s marketing. We did slowly add items back into the home, using resources like EWG.org and other fantastic websites and research that help decipher all of this crazy information. It was so overwhelming, baby steps with this stuff was really the way to go. I made several of my own products in the beginning of my quest until I could find a safe alternative to the store bought items.

Conventional laundry detergent was the one product I could never feel fully comfortable with. I read studies about how polluting they are to our waterways and fish, and how certain chemicals in detergents are found in breast milk and blood. The ingredients mostly came from China where the ingredient integrity can be questionable and mostly synthetic ingredients are used…even when there is a safer raw option- because they are cheap. In America, where Procter and Gamble spends multi-millions in marketing and brainwashing people into thinking we need lots of foaming and bubbles and we have to have scent for our items to be clean, it’s no wonder we have limited options on the shelf that are safe.

I decided we had to do something. I knew too much to sit at the wayside, and all the research came at a great price. Molly’s Suds was born. It is a tribute to her and to all that her death allowed my eyes to be opened to. It is a promise of strict ingredient integrity and safer chemicals that truly clean.

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We began formulation in 2008 and had a shelf ready product in 2010. We sold our products in farmer’s markets, co-ops, mom groups and other smaller markets at first. I taught classes on ingredient integrity,what chemicals to avoid and why and basically spoke to anyone who would listen. It was awesome. Most people eat organic, but don’t give a second thought to what they clean their home in or wash their clothes with. It opened people’s eyes to become wise and to do their own research. That is still the goal today. Teaching our customers, moms, retailers, local groups, and even our friends and family about ingredients, about harmful chemicals, what is safe and what is not, and how they can find the research. I don’t judge people for what they use, I think we all are just doing what we feel is best for our families and ourselves. But empowering them with the knowledge and then letting them do what they want with it is half the battle!

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We continue to grow here at Molly’s Suds in St. Petersburg, FL. We love what we do, encouraging a workplace where our employees can feel like they are making a difference. Our children also know the hard work that goes into running a company and help out on their days off school. We are both humbled and excited about Molly’s Suds, the adventure we have been on, and how God has allowed good to come out of our tragedy.

 

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 Monica Leonard, founder of Molly’s Suds, is an inspiring, mission-driven woman with a huge heart, passionate about continuously educating herself and consumers about the  harmful chemical dangers we come across in our daily lives, and how to steer clear of them as much as possible. Mother of four, and originally a pediatric nurse, Monica’s experiences, faith and compassion drove her to develop a line of truly safe household products. Molly’s Suds is a way for her stillborn daughter, Molly, to live on, teaching and motivating others to be wise and do their research before simply accepting and trusting major conventional brands on the shelves. Monica’s ongoing goal is to continuously and responsibly grow Molly’s Suds, cultivate eco-responsibility throughout all practices, and continue educating as many consumers as possible along the way.

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Why You Shouldn’t Pull That April Fool’s Pregnancy Announcement Prank

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Infertility

Don’t ever believe a pregnancy announcement made on April 1st.

I grew up in a home that enjoyed practical jokes. A good prank was appreciated with gusto in my childhood home; run the hot water in the kitchen while someone was taking a shower so they’d get a blast of cold water, cover a door knob in Vaseline, fill someone’s hand with shaving cream while they were sleeping then tickle their nose and watch them slap their face with the shaving cream, create trick food such as mashed potato ice-cream, or cover the toilet in plastic wrap under the seat; it was the stuff family bonding is made of. It taught me a lot and I’ve learned to laugh at myself easily… along with everyone else. To this day I have a deep appreciation for practical jokes and an enduring sense of humor.

Then I fell in love with and married someone who has a great sense of humor but doesn’t have the same appreciation for practical jokes as I do. He was a bit more sensitive in his jokes, aware not only of his own feelings but the feelings of others. Pranks I played were sometimes met with laughter but just as often were met with frustration that I would want to laugh at his or others’ expense. The ones that hurt him the most, even if I didn’t pull them on him but someone else, were those that were an oversight of someone’s personal struggles. Just plain insensitive. Because causing others pain is not funny. It was eye opening and I slowly realized that humor was great but humor without sensitivity can be very damaging and hurtful.

Social media introduced a whole new way to prank people and April Fool’s quickly became the perfect platform for pulling ALL. THE. JOKES. None became more popular (and overdone) than the fake pregnancy announcement. And why not? It’s easy, it has an easy shock value, and for many it gets a lot of laughs after putting people on for a bit.

But really, there is a big reason why not. Because it causes others pain.

Only those that have struggled with infertility or pregnancy loss may really understand this but it is enough for me that there are those that have indeed been caused pain by this attempt at humor. I have no doubt that those pulling the prank aren’t intending to hurt anyone, they are just having fun. The reactions from their friends and loved ones gives them a laugh and they are able to move on. What they may not see, however, are those friends and loved ones who don’t comment, don’t “like,” don’t laugh. Those friends and loved ones for whom a pregnancy announcement is no joke. Not because they don’t have a sense of humor but because there is a deep ache within them to have a real, not a joke positive pregnancy test of their own. It’s not funny, it’s painful. It isn’t necessary to understand or relate to that pain, it’s just human decency and kindness not to cause them more pain once you’re aware of it.

Please, before you pull that overdone April Fool’s prank announcing a fake pregnancy consider that for those struggling with infertility, a pregnancy announcement is no joke. Humor is great but not when it causes others pain.

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What other April Fool’s pranks ideas do you have that are sensitive and fun?

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Shredded Mother, Whole

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

I have never shared this publicly but as I reflect on last year I think I’m ready to share it now:

I had pregnancy loss this time last year.

March, 2014 we were headed to India with International Teams, Initiative 31.8 and a group of people who would go on to become some dear, dear friends. This trip would be filled with beauty, ugliness, joy, pain, learning, teaching, listening, speaking, and the beginning of the end of our relationship with ITeams. Fresh clean water would flow in communities that hadn’t had fresh clean water, our lips would burn with “mild” curries, we would hold hands and listen to stories with those many years our seniors in a language we couldn’t understand, and we would paint a wall with the words of that language with kids who smiled easier than we did. There was singing, dancing, laughter, conversation, and bonds forged sitting in dirt with women breastfeeding their babies.

The entire time I would be bleeding from a twin pregnancy loss and D&C 4 days before we left.

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I was a conflict of emotion. Earlier in that new year, I was surprised and quite frankly, upset when I discovered I was pregnant. We had decided to wait on a permanent decision regarding having more children for another year but when our prevention method failed I was filled with fear. Fear that the timing wasn’t right, that our finances wouldn’t survive another pregnancy at that time, fear that hyperemises gravidarum would be too much to handle away from the support network we had previously had in Houston now that we were living in Portland, fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle my job and pregnancy without that support, and fear that the judgment many others have about a large family of 8 adding another person wouldn’t be held quietly inside by those around us and their critical words of hate would reach my amazing children’s ears. Almost immediately upon getting the positive test result I wished I was comfortable terminating the pregnancy.

We decided to tell nobody but my best friend while we tried to figure out how to prepare for the months ahead. Really though, we just avoided talking about it, avoided preparing. Every time we would discuss finding a care provider I would end up in tears. My friend was going through her own nightmare with a messy divorce with an abusive soon-to-be ex husband and was overwhelmed with the stress off that. When I started bleeding near the end of February, I was relieved and then immediately felt guilty. Prior to this pregnancy, I had experienced 4 losses and now I hoped this would be a loss too.

And I had a new fear, maybe I was really a shitty mother because I didn’t want my babies.

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

The ultrasound showed twins but things didn’t look good and the measurements were off by 3 weeks. There wasn’t even one heartbeat, let alone two. Maybe my dates were wrong but the bleeding didn’t stop.

We had a choice: stay home and not go to India and see what happened while Jeremy led the trip, go to India and take a risk of complications in another country, or have a D&C and go to India. This trip I had dreamed up, envisioned, advocated for, recruited for, and worked hard with an amazing team to plan for over a year called to me. And then, so did my babies. The next day my bleeding increased and I felt certain I was miscarrying. We made the difficult decision to have the DNC. And then I knew I wanted them, wanted them to stay, wanted them to survive even though I was still relieved they hadn’t. I was torn between loving them and being glad they weren’t going to be born and hating myself for feeling that way. It called into question everything I knew or thought of myself as a mother. How could I be any kind of good mother if I was relieved my babies weren’t going to be born?

It shredded me.

A day later I boarded a plane for Chicago where just 24 hours after having the inside of my uterus scraped, I spoke at MommyCon Chicago’s VIP Meet and Leak, a day after that I spoke in two seminar sessions, one while breastfeeding our one and a half year old as I spoke. At MommyCon I hugged hundreds of women, listened to their mothering journeys, cried with them, laughed with them, and was honored to receive the stories they chose to share with me. All the shredded parts of me received them, even as I was wrestling with my own worthiness as a mother.

Four days following the procedure we were on our way to India.

Tasting the water from the new borehole. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Tasting the water from the new borehole as Sugarbaby slept on my back. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I couldn’t tell my team at the time, not because of them, because of my inability to talk about it. One of our team members was dealing with infertility and the grief that goes along with that, another was figuring out their own family planning, and still another was facing joblessness when they returned. All of us were dealing with some kind of recent loss and unfolding on that trip was our own loss of our place within the organization. My own emotions were a conflicting mix of sadness, freedom, gratitude, and anger over both the pregnancy and the unavoidable reality that we would be parting ways with this organization and work we loved so much.The truth was it was time for us to move on, to focus on other work but we didn’t want it to end so painfully and what seemed to be so senselessly. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was frustrated and yet peacefully determined to not lose myself in the process. The truth is, if our financial situation and support network had been different, we would have been glad to be pregnant. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was at once heartbroken and relieved. When I returned home from the trip amidst drama between us and the organization, I was still bleeding and I was bleeding still when we were officially dismissed from ITeams for reasons that to this day I still don’t understand. Even still I can’t help but feel a connection between the pregnancy loss I don’t understand and the job loss I don’t understand all somehow connected to love, joy, beauty, grief, pain, loneliness, and India. And all the shredded parts of me. We went to India to learn, support, encourage, get clean water flowing, what I ended up finding was beauty and healing even as my heart and my uterus were bleeding.

Last week I spoke at MommyCon Chicago again and as I walked into the same room where I had spoken a year before, I remembered that shredded version of myself. She was stronger than I realized then and I honored her, the conflict and turmoil and grief to come.

Wholeness has come again, there is still grief and relief in my scars but I’m not so afraid that I’m a shitty mother, I believe I’m just a human one with human feelings. Sharing this, I know I will likely be judged for a good number of things, but that’s ok, my wholeness is not determined by the judgment of others and if it touches one other shredded and very human mother, it was worth it. I don’t regret the procedure and I still feel confident it was the right choice for me and my family but I do wonder how it all would have played out if we had waited or if the pregnancy had stuck. Today as I look back on the first anniversary of the loss of the babies I never knew, I still have that same mixture of emotions with the added inner wisdom that our family and our work is exactly right for us in this moment. In an odd way, though I don’t think the timing was right, I miss our babies though I never held them, never named them, and wasn’t ready for them. They have impacted me and helped me forgive myself to find wholeness, accepting what is and all the loss. The conflict within me hasn’t lessened much, it is only subdued by the rightness of my family right now.

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

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