Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Elephant's name is Sophia Anne

If you are having your holiday with a sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, parent, grandparent, neighbor or friend who has had a loss, it is there. Can you see it? You may be standing right on it, desperately trying to ignore it. But it is there--The Elephant In The Room. Those of us who have had losses are trying very hard not to look at it as well, least you all think we are crazy. Of course, the farther away from your loss you are, the more people think you are insane if you point it out. While you are dying to shout it out, you might just keep quiet and wait until someone asks. Oh that? Those pictures over there? Yes, that is my Elephant In The Room. I had a baby girl, and she died. If you are closer to your loss, the desire to set up a shrine in the middle of the dining room table with candles and flowers and blow horns around your Elephant is almost unbearable. THIS IS MY ELEPHANT! you'll want to yell, SOMEONE PLEASE LOOK AT MY ELEPHANT!

One of the most common questions/statements I get when I give talks about infant and pregnancy loss is something along the lines of, "Oh, I knew about [The Elephant] but I didn't want to mention it. I didn't want to upset anyone." My response is always the same--it isn't upsetting...at least not in the way you might think. Let's look at this. Thanksgiving dinner is coming and you notice that there is no candle or special memory card out for your cousin's Elephant. You say, "Would you like me to light a candle in honor of your Elephant?" There are two possible answers to this. A) "Oh thank you so much for thinking of our Elephant, but we prefer to light his/her candle later, with just the two of us." or B) "OH THANK YOU FOR REMEMBERING! I really wanted to light a candle but didn't want anyone to think I was forcing my grief onto you! I'm so happy you thought of my Elephant!"

See? Neither of those possible answers is upsetting at all. But the question--the question that you asked--brought The Elephant front and center. And the grieving family will thank you for it. Because here is the secret--one of the most treasured gifts you can ever give a grieving family is the sound of their Elephant's name. They want to know that their Elephant isn't just important to them, but to many. They want to know that their Elephant was real and had an impact beyond their own walls. They want to know their Elephant is remembered. And with one question, you gave them all of that. All of it.

Holidays are a challenge for everyone, no doubt. But a grieving family is eating their turkey, doing their shopping, buying gifts and trying to spread some cheer while silently remembering their Elephant. Please remember this when you are celebrating with them. It could make all the difference.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Planting Seeds...

This weekend was the annual ME/NH La Leche League Conference. I love this gathering of like-minded souls! It is so refreshing to be in a group of people who all support breastfeeding and natural family living. I go to this conference every year, I am often on the conference committee and I am usually a speaker as well. Two years ago, I gave a talk on Helping Families Cope with Loss. It was a talk designed to reach out to nurses, doulas, midwives and also family members who might be supporting someone who has lost a baby to early pregnancy loss or stillbirth. The talk was extremely well received and, despite the fact that I couldn't get through without crying, seemed to make people stop and think about what they say and do with families dealing with this kind of grief. This year, I gave the same talk and again, it was very well received. (And now, nearly 4 years out, I can give the talk without crying--though my voice still does crack at certain points.) After my talk, a woman came up to me to thank me for having the courage to tell my story again and again. She wanted me to know that she had come to this same talk two years ago and was so touched she immediately went home to call her daughter who was a nurse in Toronto, Canada. She gave her daughter all the information, websites and other resources I had shared with her. Within a month, her daughter was faced with a loss situation and, because of the information she had, was able to work with the family and help them see the beauty of their baby girl. That family stayed in touch with the woman's daughter because they were so thankful for her love and support during their loss and in the months and years that followed. They now have twins, this woman was telling me, and her daughter goes over to their house once a week to play with the babies, maybe make a meal...whatever she can to be helpful. Their relationship is so special and so important to them because of how it was created--though the bond of loss and the caring and dedication of one nurse who never left their side.

Now, I don't claim any of the responsibility for this relationship--clearly this woman's daughter is extremely loving and dedicated to her job--but I am so happy to have planted that seed. I'm so happy to have been able to help someone help this nurse find the tools she needed to be exactly what this family needed. Thank you, Sophie, for the love and strength you bring to our family--you did this. I wonder how many you touched at this year's conference.....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day Mountain Photo

I think the people I am around on a daily basis usually fall into three basic categories. There are the people who have had losses similar to ours that fully understand what we have gone through/are going through and who are there to support us no matter what. Then there are the people who have never had a loss and don't understand what our family is going through AND are still very compassionate and empathetic and are there to support us no matter what. And then there are the people who have never had a loss and, although they most likely don't mean to be, they simply aren't very supportive. (I understand that, most times, this is not because they are mean-hearted people...it is simply a true lack of understanding--and not in an ignorant way, either...I'm not trying to be mean here). In the first year or so after Sophie died, I had a lot of anger and bitterness towards that last group of people. I was judgmental and impatient with them and worked hard to avoid them at all costs. I fully acknowledge that, now, nearly 4 years out (which is an easier place to acknowledge things from than when you are so raw from such a loss).

Anyway, for a while after she died, I was getting lots of advice from people on how to move forward. Much of it was useful. Some of it, however, was in that they-didn't-mean-it-to-be-but-it-was-hurtful category. And the thing about that kind of advice is that when you are nursing a completely broken heart and soul, you are actually scared enough to take it. Maybe they are right, you'll say to yourself, maybe if I keep talking about her I will drive myself crazy. Maybe I do "need" to forget about her. And everything in your whole being will tell you the advice is wrong--that it is actually okay to include her in your life and in your family...but that nagging voice--that well-meaning person who told you to forget it and move on--will still be there. Always there. Looking back now, I can see that "advice" for what it was. And I can see that it came from some of the people in my world who are in that third category--the ones who simply don't get it and (hopefully) will never get it. And I can also look back at the me who was so angry and judgmental towards those people and think, I know you won't approve and that is okay. You have no way of understanding and we truly hope that is always true. We love you for what you bring to our life, but this grief journey is ours to take. It feels good to be in a more balanced place. With that in mind, there is something we have been waiting for nearly 2 years to do...and many will think we're nuts. We're okay with that!

When Erin was a toddler, we took her up Day Mountain in Acadia National Park. We had a great day! Two years later, we took the same picture of her sister and when we got them printed, we realized they were actually wearing the same vest for the same hike. So, of course, we had to take Evan up it this fall wearing the same vest! But there is more--I wanted to take an empty picture as well. Just a picture of the sign at the top so that I can put them all together in a frame and show off all four of my babies. Because there really are four, you know.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beer Maker Erin!

Man! Between my new job, travels, and life, this blog is getting the short end of the stick! Did you know I started a new job? It is at this store in downtown Bangor. This place is awesome--downstairs is homebrew, wine making, cheese making, and some local produce and dairy (raw milk, some cheese and yogurt). Upstairs is cloth diapers, baby wearing, nursing support and locally made baby stuff (booties, hats) and so much more! We are going to be offering regular classes in basic cloth diapering and baby wearing, and then additional things like gentle discipline, nutrition and simplicity parenting. It is going to be absolutely awesome and it IS absolutely awesome to be a part of this!

Today was my first day there with the kids--Erin and Evan came with me. Evan, obviously, is happy wherever I am and wherever he can find a sister to play with. Erin got a bit bored upstairs so she wandered downstairs to talk to Zeth and Asa (who work with the beer stuff). Asa was brewing up a huge batch of brew and Zeth taught Erin about different hops and let her taste some of the grains. Now she is all interested in beer making and fermentation and such! I've no doubt she'll be helping customers in no time! (Cuz I'm sure people will take beer advice from a 7-year-old, no problem!)

As we were leaving today, Erin said to me, "I really like Zeth, he is kind and friendly...and Asa...well, Asa is just cool!"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Not To Meat

So it wasn't a problem after all! The lady at the ticket counter told us to just tell our server we were vegetarian. So we did and got a nice meal of rice, beans, potato, bread, and grilled veggies. As a bonus, vegetarians get to use forks! Yes, there were silly comments, but in the end we did what was right for us. And our knight gave his ribbon of devotion to none other than the beautiful Princess Megan!

Thank you, Anette...I know how right you are. And seeing Erin use more and more of our values as she grows makes these moments of indecision few and far between.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

To Meat or Not To Meat

Dietary choices are a hot topic in our family, and I'll tell you why. We have been vegetarians for a long time now. While we have eaten occasional meals of sea food, we have not touched pork, beef or poultry. At home, this is easy and very few people question it. In fact, many of our friends and extended family members are also vegetarians. It is a very easily defined parameter in which to create a meal. In the past year, however, we have begun to introduce very small quantities of locally-raised meat into our diets. This, it turns out, is even harder to explain when we are out and about. At the vast majority of restaurants, it is easy--we order vegetarian. At most friends' houses, it is also easy to explain and we know who among our friends only serve local foods and who does not. When we are with friends who do not, we simply eat vegetarian fare. Simple. But for some, it isn't as simple anymore.

So what do you do when faced with the inevitable discussion about meat in general? Trying to explain that there IS a difference between store-bought meat and locally raised meat just makes us sound elitist. Understand that I'm not judging you for eating store-bought meat. Really! If you fully understand where your meat comes from and are okay with that--great! I don't happen to be okay with that for my family. You make your choices and I'll make mine. But, in the same way that I'm really, really, really, not judging you, I would hope for the same courtesy. Shrugging me off as snobby or just plain silly is annoying. But I digress...

Fast forward to tonight. We are going to a really cool medieval dinner theater. We will see jousting, sword play, horses, court jesters...and we'll have a genuine medieval meal (there is no menu...they just serve the dinner). Guess what? There weren't many vegetarian choices in the 1100's. Of course, as Erin pointed out, "If it is a REAL medieval experience, the meat HAS to be pasture raised and local. It HAS to be!" (She's right, of course, but I'm guessing this place isn't THAT authentic.) So I asked Chris what he would do (he isn't here with me) and he agreed it is a problem. I will fully acknowledge to anyone who wants me to that I don't believe it would hurt me. I know it would be safe and "fine" and all of that. But at what price? How deeply do I believe in the values I'm raising my kids with (answer: VERY deeply)? If I eat it, what do I tell them (values are only good at home when it is convenient?? Where do I draw the line (no store-bought meat except at dinner theaters? what about regular restaurants?)? What if they want to eat it? Erin can make her own choices, I've no doubt about that. She knows the facts and I trust her judgement. Megan is getting there...but I don't think I want her making a choice in the heat of the moment, you know? Evan is only 20 months old. I'll be making his decision, thank you very much.

What we will probably do is eat healthy food before we go and then fill up on the soup (tomato bisque) and cheese and bread. Because, when it comes down to it and I have a piece of meat on my fork...I really don't think I could put it in my mouth.

Are you a vegetarian? Do you eat local meat? Would you consider local meat occasionally? Am I nuts to think it isn't just about the meat but about how the meat was raised and where it came from? (Answer: no, I'm not nuts, but I guess I'm trying to argue away the "just this once" voice that is talking to me....I hate that voice!)