Happy half-birthday Zoe Bear! And yes Jeffrey, half birthdays are a thing on this house, no matter how much you try to deny them.

6 months. Wow does time fly. So much has changed since we lost you. The big things–a new home, a new state, a new car, new friends, new adventures. A ton of little things–your brother now talks just as much as your sister; J started first grade; a billion and one other things I can’t think of at the moment.

How are things up there? Have you started crawling yet? Both of your siblings were very late with all of their gross motor skills. I didn’t think either of them would crawl, that they’d skip right to walking instead since it was taking so long. Turned out they were just a bit late to the game, that’s all.

What makes you giggle? For J it was the sound of a zipper going up and down. Man, that used to crack her up! C loved (and still does) any funny noise we make. Nonsense words are his favorite. That and tickles. Tickles are an easy way to get a spectacular giggle out of both of them.

Are you happy? I don’t think you could possibly beat your brother on that one. Carter takes his Canadian roots very seriously and is the happiest, most laid back kid ever. Your sister on the other hand is…well…fun. Let’s go with fun. Are you a mix of the two? Are you a people-lover like your siblings were at your age? They definitely didn’t get that trait from your father ūüėČ

Any teeth? I’m an awful mother and am unable to remember when either of your siblings started sprouting them. How dare I forget something so significant?! It’s recorded somewhere…I’m just too lazy to look. Especially since your brother and sister are actually playing very well together at the moment and I’m terrified that if I move they’ll notice me and the peace and quiet will stop.

Are you sleeping through the night yet? You would be if you were in this household, that’s for sure! Cry it out starts at 6 months here and doesn’t end til you know only to cry if you actually need something. Mama values her sleep. If you can’t get on board, then you get sold.

Please don’t tell me you hate riding in the car. I’m still traumatized by months and months and months of your brother screaming every time he was strapped in his car seat.

How about food? Found anything you enjoy yet? Your brother loves food so much that the very first time we put that spoon to his lips and he got his first taste of “people food” he started shaking like an alcoholic craving a drink and he hasn’t looked back. We made you half a birthday cake since today is your half birthday (even though your father doesn’t believe in half birthdays. Which is why I don’t think he should get a piece of your incredibly-messy-but-hopefully-very-delicious half birthday cake). But let’s be honest–I wouldn’t let you have a bite of it any way. No desserts til you turn 1! Both of your siblings destroyed their first birthday cakes at their photo shoots and are now sugar-holics. No idea where they get that one from ūüėČ And then you can follow in your brother’s footsteps and start screaming “WHOOPER!!! WHOOPER!!! WHOOOOPPPPERRRRRRR!!!!” the moment you’re strapped into the high chair for dinner. That phase lasted a good 3 months and I do not miss it one bit.

Hopefully someone is singing songs and reading books to you. Both your brother and sister love books and songs and can’t get enough of either. I’m a bit sick of princesses and trucks though, so hopefully your tastes are a bit more diverse.

The details don’t really matter though. What matters is that you’re happy and no longer suffering. Although I would give anything in the world to know every single detail of your personality, I never will. And it is what it is. Just know that we love you and we miss you. And although disastrous looking, your half birthday cake was absolutely delicious. Happy 6 months Zoe Bear!

The results.

I’ve been feeling very on edge the past few days. ¬†I’ll be perfectly fine one minute and then highly irritable the next. ¬†I was attributing my moodiness to the fact that I have spent practically every waking moment with Jeff, J and C for the last two months straight and the family time is beginning to get on my nerves. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love all three of them, but the lack of a schedule is beginning¬†to drive me insane. Scratch that–completely¬†driving me insane. ¬†Everyone (minus myself, of course) is sleeping until 9 am. ¬†The kids are staying up until 930 pm. ¬†We need to get back to a 730/830 schedule. ¬†Jeff needs to get back to work. ¬†Jordan needs to make some friends. ¬†And Carter needs to be back on his schedule so he can stop being cranky. ¬†I love my family, but two months is entirely too long to¬†never not see them (how do you like that sentence?? ¬†See, I’m going so crazy that I can’t even form coherent thoughts anymore).

At least that ¬†was what I’ve been blaming my moodiness on. ¬†But as J is watching¬†a mini Jake and the Neverland Pirates marathon (“Jake and the Neverland Pirates…and ME!!!!!” My insanity train is gaining speed…)¬†while C sleeps and Jeff works in the basement, I’m still feeling irritable. ¬†I started working on some DIY projects I have on my plate, but am just not in the right mood for them¬†and I feared they were only going to make my mood¬†worse. ¬†And then it hit me…do I need to write?? ¬†To take some time to confront my underlying feelings about Zoe? ¬†Because Lord knows that unless I sit down to write about it, I blatantly gloss over anything I’m feeling. ¬†It’s probably¬†definitely time for a heart-to-heart.

So, the results. ¬†Man, all of this happened so long ago that I’m not even sure if I can remember it in the proper order. ¬†Basically, I finally bit the bullet and called the decadent affairs office at UVA around the 110 day mark (this all happened while we were still in Virginia. ¬†I think the week before the movers came?). ¬†I really didn’t want to make the phone call; I felt like I was badgering them, even though the window they gave us was “60-90 days”. ¬†But at the same time I was worried that we had slipped through the cracks; I didn’t want to be forgotten about either. ¬†The person who answered the phone at decedent affairs (doctor? ¬†receptionist? ¬†I have no idea) checked my file and said Zoe’s autopsy was indeed complete. ¬†According to their system, a letter would¬†be¬†mailed to us within the next week stating¬†the autopsy¬†results were in and a doctor should be contacting us to go over them. ¬†He suggested going ahead and contacting the doctor ourselves now since sometimes people slip through the cracks, just as I had feared. ¬†And I’m not in anyway blaming anyone or bitter about that; they kind of have more important things going on…like trying to save all of their patients that are currently alive.

After hanging up the phone with decedent affairs, I then called Zoe’s main NICU doctor from UVA, Brooke. ¬†I left her a voicemail during which I immediately burst into tears and could barely get out what I was trying to say. ¬†It was incredibly mortifying. ¬†I don’t know where it even came from–I had been perfectly fine prior to making the call. ¬†I’m sure it was just everything catching up to me.

Brooke called back a short time later. ¬†Her first question was to ask how we were doing. ¬†I hurriedly reassured her that we were, in fact, doing fine, contrary to how I sounded in the voicemail. ¬†That was two months ago and I’m still embarrassed by that message. ¬†The she dove into the results. ¬†Or, I guess I should say, lack thereof. ¬†Basically, there were no answers. ¬†There wasn’t anything discovered in the autopsy that could give us more of a clue what happened. ¬†Zoe was born with a thick heart, but no reason why. ¬†It was all very anticlimactic. ¬†I didn’t feel any different after having the results than I had previously. ¬†And I think that’s part of what took me so long to update everyone–it didn’t change anything. ¬†The results don’t matter.

Jeff was very dissatisfied with the lack of answers. ¬†Obviously. ¬†We still don’t¬†know how or why it happened. ¬†Or if this something we need to worry about going through with another child. ¬†I, on the other hand, was perfectly fine with the unknown. ¬†Not until we heard the words “we don’t know” did a huge weight completely lift off of me. ¬†I don’t know what I would’ve done if she had come back and said, “I’m so sorry, but you did this or that wrong during the pregnancy and that’s what caused the problem.” ¬†Or “One of you have a major genetic flaw and are very likely to pass this onto another child so we recommend not getting pregnant again”. ¬†Or “It’s highly likely J or C also have a thick heart and may drop dead at any second”. ¬†Or any one of a million other answers that meant¬†we caused this. ¬†We inflicted all of this pain on Zoe. ¬†I¬†worked out too hard or slept wrong or the doctor-prescribed-pills I took for morning sickness during the first trimester caused this. ¬†Because any of those answers would have been unbearable. ¬†I wouldn’t have survived. ¬†It might have been anticlimactic, but not knowing was a-okay with me.

Brooke said that she was going to pass Zoe’s case on to a cardiology geneticst at UVA. ¬†Just because¬†she didn’t see anything didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t an answer to be had–it just wasn’t anything obvious. ¬†She said to expect a call from him within a week.

True to her word, the geneticist called about a week later. ¬†He was absolutely phenomenal and both Jeff and I are¬†disappointed that we won’t be working with him. ¬†He explained that there is a very fine line on which we must balance. ¬†We need to look into finding an answer, but at the same time not go overboard with it. ¬†The first step is for all four of us to go to a cardiologist to have all of our hearts checked out. ¬†If none of us have an undiagnosed heart¬†condition then most likely the question train stops here. ¬†Most likely it was just a freak happening. ¬†If the cardiologist does find something in any of us, well then that’s a whole different ball game. ¬†We explained that we were in the process of moving and he said that he would put together a list of cardiology geneticists in the KC area for us. ¬†He also recommended getting a copy of Zoe’s full health records for ourselves to make things simpler every time we see a doctor. ¬†He said that if UVA¬†tries to charge us for the records to let him know and he would request them instead and send them to us himself. ¬†See why I was disappointed we won’t¬†be working with him?

With all of the moving we haven’t had a chance to get a referral to a cardiologist. ¬†Zoe’s autopsy results came in the mail last week, and with it a letter to give to our PCM explaining the situation and the recommendation for all of us to get echoes and ECGs. ¬†Hopefully that will make the process easier. ¬†I’ll find out for sure on Tuesday when I see J’s PCM for her school physical…

The actual autopsy is filled with a bunch of medical mumbo jumbo. ¬†I’ve tried to read it about a dozen times but can’t make it more than two or three sentences in before I give up. ¬†Her final cause of death was cardiomyopathy, which just means “diseases of the heart muscle”. ¬†She was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is slightly more specific and means a “thick heart”. ¬†Since this can occur at any time and to anyone, there aren’t any signs or symptoms, it’s important for myself, Jeff¬†to get checked every 3-5 years and J and C every year.

I cried pretty much the entire time I was writing this. ¬†Just goes to show that I really did need this. ¬†Hopefully this was therapeutic enough that my mood will return to how it normally is–mostly good with only a few bouts of unexplained irritability. After all,¬†I am¬†female.

Zoe’s Tree Planting.

I finally opened the photos from Zoe’s tree planting. I hired a local photographer, a friend of my someday-sister-in-law (if my brother ever gets his act together and actually proposes before she wises up and dumps the doofus!) to come out and take pictures for us. It seemed a bit weird to hire someone, but I didn’t want to ask any of the guests to take them, plus I wanted everyone who was there to actually be in the photos. I’ve been super anxious to see them. The CD arrived a few days ago (no fault of the photographer’s…we needed an address first, hahaha) but the moment I saw it my excitement was replaced by another emotion. Not dread…not sadness…not depression. Anxiousness maybe? I can’t even put my finger on it. This was it: the final photographs.

It wasn’t just that it was the “end” of it all either. I wouldn’t say I’ve been avoiding thinking about Zoe, but I’ve been focused on so many other things at she hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind like she was the for the first two months after her death. And looking at the photos meant reliving it again. Confronting the thoughts I’ve continuously pushed away.

We went to the library in town for the first time today (this has something to do with Zoe, I promise!). I misread the schedule online so we got there just as story time was letting out. Being confronted with all those moms with multiple children all of varying ages brought everything rushing back. There were babies and toddlers everywhere. That and the teeny tiny 2 week old baby that was there. Tears sprung to my eyes watching the mom corral her two other children while breastfeeding the baby at the same time. That wouldn’t be me right now (Zoe would be 5 months on Thursday and on a rigid schedule by now ūüėČ ) but it SHOULD have been me 4 months ago. This was the first time I was in public with the kids in a child-centric setting and I was totally unprepared for its impact on me. What a surprise.

After my experience at the library this morning I decided I was done procrastinating looking at the pictures. It was time. And looking at them turned out not to be emotional for me at all. Granted that could’ve been due to the fact that I HATE Jeff’s laptop with a passion (seriously, I’m incapable of using anything that’s not a Mac anymore) so I spent the entire time muttering swear words under my breath instead of focusing on the photographs. But whatever the reason, I’ll take it. I smiled remembering how J crawled into the hole and walked all over Z’s ashes when I asked her to place the bear at the bottom of the tree. I remembered reading the poem that came with the butterflies and recalled how perfect it was for our situation (and wished my copy of it wasn’t packed away because I can’t remember exactly what it said). I shook my head remembering a couple of inappropriate comments made…like when one of the kids threw a shovelful of dirt in the hole and yelled, “Die, bear, die!!!!” while laughing maniacally. How we got started 20 minutes late because unsurprisingly one of the Sunday clan was running behind. How amazing Jeff’s pulled pork tasted and that it turned out to be the perfect amount of food. How I made Jeff wait until everyone was there to drop the tree into the hole, instead of doing that part earlier in the morning. How we told Tyler a 6 foot oak and instead he showed up with a 20 footer…about 20 minutes before the tree planting was supposed to begin. How creepy it sounded when I passed out the butterfly envelopes, hearing their legs/wings scratching at the paper, trying to get out. How the majority of the butterflies didn’t have use of their wings yet and plopped straight down to the ground when we released them so we had to be careful walking on the grass so as not to trample them. I was just happy that the majority of them were alive! It probably wouldn’t have been a good omen if all 30 butterflies were dead upon opening the envelopes…

But mostly I remembered how nice it all was. The weather was perfect. Everyone was able to make it, minus just a few people. We spent some great quality time with family and friends that we don’t get to see often enough. We were able put our baby girl to rest in a beautiful, peaceful way. There are a handful of times when Jeff comes up with a REALLY stellar idea, and this was one of them. I’m glad we have the tree to come back and visit every time we go home to see how much Zoe has grown. I’m glad we had to wait for a few months for the weather to warm up so we had time to come to terms with our grief. I’m glad I hired someone to take photos and that she had the brilliant idea to get a group shot at the end (although I do wish it would’ve occurred to me to get one of just the 4 of us too. And that I had taken a photo of just the kids by the tree before we left. Those would be great family photos to mark everyone’s growth as time goes by! Guess I’ll just have to start that tradition the next time we go home…).¬†I’m glad that all of our friends and family were able to participate in burying the tree, her legacy. I’m glad we did this.

My favorite moment of all was when I asked J if there was anything she would like to tell Zoe after her ashes were spread. She looked at me and said, “No. I talk to Zoe a lot at night before I go to sleep. I tell her all kinds of things then.”image

The “What-Ifs”…

It’s been awhile. About ten billion things have happened, all cementing the fact that moving/stress/a new environment is definitely the way to take my mind off of things. And timing-wise it all worked well. Going through everything we have the last few weeks on top of still majorly grieving any earlier would have been impossible. I needed time to process Zoe’s death and to go through the roller coaster of emotions. But any longer to dwell and I would’ve gone crazy. I haven’t cried in weeks. I think of her often, but never with gut wrenching sadness. I still have times when I have to catch my breath when she slips into my mind, but it’s not completely debilitating. I’m over the worst of it. There are still going to be plenty of bad times, but I’m okay. We’re okay.

All of it made me wonder what it would’ve been like if we had a 4 month old to worry about on top of it all. How would my sleep deprivation effected my dealing with the unbelievable stress of our stuff packed like shit? Seriously, I can’t even describe how horribly our stuff was packed. For me the icing on the cake was our 50 inch plasma TV (which is in the military moving contract that it has to be crated) shoved into a box the packer made by taping broken down boxes together. He didn’t even wrap it in paper before sticking it in there (not that it would’ve survived even if he had used paper, but still!).



When we were finally blessed with the 2 most amazing packers I have ever seen on Friday morning (the day we were supposed to be leaving, not still packing and loading) to completely repack our house, exclamations of “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!” and “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!” were heard all morning. We were continuously asked if it would be okay if they took pictures to show their bosses and other professional packers the shitshow our boxes were.

Box that popped open all by itself.

Box that popped open all by itself.

This is how the majority of our boxes looked.

This is how the majority of our boxes looked.

How all of my lamps were "packed". Lightbulb and all.

How all of my lamps were “packed”. Lightbulb and all.

My TiVo. In a suitcase.

My TiVo. In a suitcase.


At least this box had paper…even if the breakable things weren’t wrapped in it…

I asked Deshawn what he thought the worst part was and he told me “The kitchen, hands down. They didn’t use a single piece of packing paper in any of your kitchen boxes.” Just so you know, every single plate, cup and bowl we own are glass. I know Jeff’s breaking point was when we discovered his $1,000 dress mess uniform crumpled in a ball at the bottom of a box under a bunch of shoes. Especially sncece he had specifically told them to pack it with care.

The dress mess is under all that crap.

The dress mess is under all that crap.

I have never seen him so angry in my entire life. I nearly lost it when I found my iMac desktop at the bottom of a box under a bunch of other stuff. It goes without saying there wasn’t any paper in that box either. All I can say is thank god for Jason, our driver. Even at 6 pm on Thursday night when he was running around like a madman trying to repack our house himself, not knowing if he was going to get paid for his hard work, and Jeff and I were beyond caring and told him to load everything as-is, we’d just buy new stuff, he said “Absolutely not. I still care about your stuff and I’m not letting it all get destroyed.” Sorry babe, but Jason is my new hero.

I can’t even imagine how things would have gone if I was waking up every 3-4 hours to breastfeed Zoe on top of the whole ordeal. I was already sleeping like shit from the stress of it all; that would’ve made it even worse. If you know me well you know that I can be a real bitch when I don’t get enough sleep, so I can only imagine what my repeated messages to the moving company would’ve sounded like. I tried to keep it civil in the beginning, knowing it wasn’t the contractor’s fault, but by the end it WAS their fault because they didn’t do anything to remedy the situation, even though we gave them a full 36 hours notice to fix the problem. When the second crew (aka two guys) was sent out to fix the problem and one of them was from the original crew, I called TMM in a panic and requested more/different people. I was told, “Well I’m 99% positive there isn’t anyone else to send. Everyone is booked so I’m not going to try. You’ll just have to hope that they retrained him and now he knows the way he packed before is wrong.” Okay I need to stop thinking about this. I’m getting all worked up again…

And what would’ve happened with the cleaning? The truck pulled out of our driveway at 11 am. Move out inspection was at 2. Fortunately we had the presence of mind to hire a cleaner, so instead of heading off to a leisurely brunch while J was in school, C was at hourly and hired help cleaned our home, we pitched in instead. We finished in the nick of time. What would we have done with Zoe though? I wouldn’t have put her in hourly, figuring she doesn’t talk or walk so she wouldn’t trample on our adult time, hahahaha, so I wouldn’t have been able to help clean (or at least not as much). Would we have finished in time?

What about on the road? How would we have split the kids? Would Jeff FINALLY have had to take a child during a PCS?!?! We were already stopping every 2-3 hours for fuel, so feeding her wouldn’t have been an issue. But would she have followed in her brother’s footsteps and hated riding in the car and screamed the entire 1100 miles?

How would the different sleeping arrangements in the camper effect everyone? J would be on the table, C would still be in the bottom bunk, Roman would be in bed with Jeff and Zoe and I would share the top. Would Roman be less annoying since he was on the bed? Would J still be sleeping til 9 am if she was in the middle of the camper? Would I have broken my neck trying to climb in and out of the top bunk?

And the biggest what-if: housing. Housing for students is a cluster fuck. It’s all on a first-come first-serve basis. Houses can’t be filled until the last class gets out. Move companies are completely booked. There are two housing areas that are available immediately, Old Oregon (which is tiny) and Infantry Barracks (which is historic, doesn’t have a garage or a yard, and in an apartment setup so half of the units are upstairs). If you want any of the newer housing you’re looking at a 2 week wait. And then an additional 2 weeks after that for household goods. It’s only 11 months so we already knew we were going for Infantry Barracks. And the moment I walked into the first house we looked at I fell in love. High ceilings, real wood floors, open…it’s gorgeous. image image imageEven if I had the choice of the new housing, I would’ve picked Infantry. However–we’re on the second floor. It’s barely possible with a 140 pound dog and a two year old. There’s no way we could’ve done it with a dog, a 2 year old, an incredibly lazy 5 year old (I’m already bracing myself for all of the complaining…) and an infant to boot. Lugging the stroller up and down. Having to carry her (and Jordan). Not possible. So what would’ve happened if we would have had to wait for other housing? Or for a bottom unit to open up? And the bottom ones are only 3 bedrooms–would we be able to make that work?

I am not in any way shape or form trying to insinuate that things are better because we didn’t have to deal with the stress of a 4 month old. That never once crossed my mind. I would still give anything to have her here with us; we would’ve figured everything out with her just as we did without her. I just wonder how it all would’ve been different. Just like every time we move and we have to make a choice between our top two housing choices–how would our experience differ if we had chosen the other one? If we had lived on post at Fort Riley? If the adorable house in Narberth had called a day earlier saying we were approved and we moved in there instead of the second floor apartment in Philly? If we had lived off post at Lee? I don’t regret any of those choices (well maybe the apartment in Philly…that was just awful), but I do wonder how completely different our experiences at each duty station would have been. And that’s just a house.

Oh and we do have results from the autopsy. Bottom line: no idea. More to come about that next time…

The solution? Moving.

As I was driving C to the Children’s Museum this morning I realized that Zoe would be 4 months old today. And I’m okay. Unlike the previous months I didn’t wake up in an awful mood this morning, not knowing why. It hasn’t been on my mind constantly for the last week, knowing the date was looming. I’ve finally solved the problem on how to not dwell on it–MOVE! I have been completely wrapped up in moving. What do we need to pull out (ha–who am I kidding…what do *I* need to pull out. Jeff is completely and totally useless when it comes to moving) to survive for the next month without our stuff? For the beach? For an empty house? In the camper? What are we going to eat? Wear? Watch? Do? What do we need to clean the house? What can I sell/donate? What route are we taking? Where are we stopping? When are we leaving? Those and thousands of other questions need to be answered. And once I finally sit down and stop moving for the night I’m utterly exhausted. I barely have the energy to zone out in front of the TV, let alone think about the upcoming milestone and what it means.

And now that I do have time to think about everything, now that the packers are (finally) at the house and zooming through all of our worldly possessions, I’m okay. It’s difficult to imagine how things would be if she was with us. She would be 4 months old and becoming an actual baby now, not a blob. I’d be getting more sleep. She’d be starting to fall into a routine. So unlike the early days when I knew that everything would be different because I would be a sleep deprived zombie, now I have idea what things should be like. My first thought is now no longer “how should this be” every time I go somewhere or do something. My brain is finally beginning to accept that this is¬†normal. My heart doesn’t stop every time I see a teeny tiny baby. I’m not insanely jealous of every mother is see with three kids.

Of course that’s not to say that on Friday when all of our stuff is gone and we say goodbye to this place that everything won’t come flooding back and I’ll have a breakdown (or ten). When I take our traditional goodbye picture in front of the house and there are only two children instead of three. When the 22nd comes. When the 14th of July comes. When we show up at Leavenworth and qualify for a 3 bedroom instead of a 4. When I meet a mom whose baby girl is 4 months old. And when any (or all) of that happens, it’s okay. Because I know now that this is survivable. That the bad phases are just that–phases. And although what happened will never be okay or right, it is what it is. We’re different people because of it. Hopefully better people because of it.

People who commit horrific acts have always baffled me, and now even more so than ever. People like the Orlando shooter who have obviously never experienced any kind of senseless tragedy. If they had they would never want to inflict that kind of pain on anyone else. I am dumbfounded by what our society is becoming and hope now more than ever that people will come to their senses. Develop empathy. Appreciate the preciousness of human life–all human life. There’s enough “natural” tragedy in the world–why would you intentionally cause harm to others? All I can hope is that my children could never fathom intentionally causing harm to others, physically or mentally. And if they are ever in a terrorism situation they’ll have the presence of mind to stay calm and do what they can to help keep others safe. It’s a sad world we live in now and the only way we can fix it is to raise the next generation right. It’s a simple as following the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. Respect. I saw this somewhere (probably Pinterest) awhile ago and it stuck with me. It’s especially relevant today and a lesson I hope to instill in our children. And in ourselves.¬†imageHmmm, kind of got off topic there. Nobody should be surprised.


Okay so Felt Mats are Just as Addicting as Quiet Books…

After making a road felt mat for C for his 2nd birthday I wondered if I could make a princess version for J. ¬†In case you’ve forgotten (oh, if only I could forget…) she is completely obsessed with the Disney Princesses. ¬†She has a bunch of these pop up board games¬†that came with tiny princess figurines to play. ¬†I think we played the games about a dozen times before she completely abandoned them and now just carries the princesses around with her everywhere. ¬†Between those and her sets of felt people, I thought it would be fun to make a princess mat for her to play on!

I started off like I do with all projects: ¬†Pinterest. ¬†Unsurprisingly these aren’t¬†nearly¬†as popular as the car mats are. ¬†I found three possible inspirations. ¬†First, a Tangled one on My Decoupaged Life. ¬†Although I loved it, I didn’t want to focus on just one princess story. ¬†In retrospect I do kind of wish I would’ve got this route instead–made a small felt mat for each princess. ¬†I just might do that down the road…

The second one I found was a little bit different.  Instead of focusing on the outside, All the Joy made the inside of the castle.  I stored this idea away for the future.

The one I relied on the most for ideas was A Girl and a Glue Gun.  I decided to make a mat that included something from each princess story.

One mistake I made was to make this project while J was home sick from school for a week. ¬†I got a lot of input from her, which was both good and bad. ¬†Like she wouldn’t let me include anything for Mulan, Pocohantas or Merida, even though that had been my original plan. ¬†She’s only had the mat for a couple of weeks and she’s already complaining that they don’t have a home. ¬†I¬†knew I shouldn’t take advice from a 5 year old!

When making all of the buildings I referred to Google images for pictures of what they looked like in the movies and then did my best to replicate them. ¬†I did a better job on some… ¬†The animals especially turned out rather interesting…

I started off with a piece of dark green felt for the background. ¬†I added a square of white for Elsa’s kingdom and dark brown for the woods. ¬†Together those two were the same length as the dark green. ¬†I cut a strip of light blue for the sky that was the same width as¬†the dark green/white. ¬†Last, I cut some dark blue for Ariel’s ocean. ¬†I cut the top so it resembled waves.

I also wish I would’ve made it bigger. ¬†I didn’t realize just how much larger C’s mat was until I had already cut the background felt for J’s mat and it was too late to make it bigger without having to scrap the pieces I had. ¬†It didn’t need to be much bigger, but a little bit would’ve been nicer.

But here’s the final product, warts and all!

J requested the North Mountain first…no surprises there. ¬†I made an Ice Castle for Elsa. ¬†I used blue and white puffy paint to embellish it a bit and glued just one side of the door down so it “opens”. ¬†I cut out a sleigh and Sven, a bunch of white triangles to represent mountains or snow mounds or something. ¬†The light blue is a path for the princesses to walk on (J requested markings on the part leading up to the castle for stairs). ¬†Marshmallow is guarding the castle and Oaken’s Trading Post is in the bottom corner. ¬†diy-princess-felt-mat-north-mountainNext we worked on the woods. ¬†I made a stream that leads to the ocean. ¬†There’s a bridge that crosses over it. ¬†The woods are supposed to represent Pocahontas, Merida, Snow White and Aurora all at once. ¬†J requested a bench, an owl, squirrels and the three fairies from Aurora (just in case you were wondering what the hell those shapes were, hahaha). ¬†The orangish/brownish felt is the ocean scene was up next. ¬†This one turned out to be waaaaay to spacious. ¬†I should’ve made Ariel’s castle a lot bigger, but I didn’t realize how small it was until I had already glued it together and I didn’t feel like starting from scratch. ¬†But this section has Ariel’s underwater palace, Eric’s ship, sunken treasure (I just needed something to throw in there!), Sebastian, Flounder (not sure where he is…), Ursula and her lair. ¬†I also made Flotsam and Jetsam but by the time I was ready to glue the underwater scene down I had lost them. ¬†I think they ended up getting swept up with all of the other felt scraps. ¬†I haven’t gotten around to making another one set of them yet. ¬†diy-princess-felt-mat-ocean

And then the rest of mat all crammed together. ¬†Aurora’s cottage and spinning wheel. ¬†A bookstore and fountain from Beauty and the Beast. ¬†The Snuggly Duckling, tower and cave from Tangled. ¬†The Wishing Well from Snow White (J had me add a blue sapphire ring at the bottom. ¬†There’s a short story about Cinderella we read once where she lost her ring in the well and the mice had to retrieve it). ¬†A pumpkin and carriage from Cinderella. ¬†Tiana’s Palace (which I had to fight J tooth and nail so I could add it). ¬† The magic carpet from Aladdin. ¬†And, most importantly, Cinderella’s castle.


I also added a back to the mat. ¬†Since I used a bunch of different felts to make the different backgrounds I figured it would help to make it roll up easier. ¬†Although really this mat isn’t large enough to roll.

I finished the edges of the front and back with some ribbon.

Voila, finished! ¬†J uses it all of the time, just like I thought she would. ¬†I really am considering making a different mat for each story. ¬†Hmmm, maybe I’ll start that right now…


I’m doing just fine 95% of the time. ¬†Well I guess technically it would be 75% of the time–the 8 days between the monthiversary of Zoe’s¬†birth and her death are nearly impossible to get through. ¬†And it usually takes me about half of the day on the 14th of the month to even realize why I’m such a shitty mood. ¬†I may not consciously be aware of¬†the date (as a stay at home mom I can barely tell you what day of the week it is, let alone the date!), but my subconscious certainly knows and my mood is absolutely horrendous. ¬†For those 8 days I’m short tempered, sad, irritable¬†and don’t want to talk. ¬†So in other words a complete joy to be around. ¬†Although then again I don’t know how much of that is different from every other day of my entire life…seriously how¬†anyone puts up with me is a mystery.

I think part of the problem is that I am doing so well the other 3 weeks of the month. ¬†I feel like I’m healing and getting better…and then the 14th through 22nd rolls around and I’m right back to where I started. ¬†I know that’s not true; I’ve made a ton of progress. ¬†But it just feels like any progress that it seems I’ve made is completely wiped clean on the 23rd. ¬†I have to start from scratch again. ¬†And I think that’s why those days are so rough; it feels like the other 22 days of the month are just a lie.

Now that I’m over the hump for the month of May things are going well again. ¬†We’re still anxiously awaiting the autopsy results. ¬†The coroner’s office told me 60-90 days is typical for infants and we officially passed the 90 day mark on Sunday. ¬†I’m going to give it the rest of the week and then call on Tuesday. ¬†I don’t want to be a hassle but I really would like some answers. ¬†Even if the answer is “Sorry, we need another month for more results to come back”.

We’re going home this weekend for Zoe’s tree planting. ¬†I can’t remember if I mentioned this before or not, but Jeff had the absolutely brilliant idea to plant Zoe’s ashes at the bottom of an oak tree on my dad’s property. ¬†Then she can grow and thrive like she was unable to as a baby and we have somewhere to visit her. ¬†Not that I need a place to go, but you know what I mean. ¬†So on Saturday we’ll have our tree planting “ceremony” (for lack of a better word) with immediate family. ¬†We’re also going to release butterflies. ¬†I know it’s super cliche, but I don’t care. ¬†We’re going to have a photographer come out and capture the moment for us. ¬†I think it will be nice. ¬†I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Someone recently posted on the local army wives page that their daughter (who passed away from the flu when she was 9 months) would have been¬†turning 3 on such-and-such date. ¬†She was looking for a little girl with the same birthday who was also turning 3 to send a gift to. ¬†I absolutely¬†adore that idea. ¬†I think it would be great to give back to someone in need and to celebrate Zoe’s birthday in a positive way. ¬†There was a ton of feedback on the post and a few people mentioned how they write a letter to their deceased child, put it in a balloon and release it on his/her birthday every year. ¬†That’s another tradition that I want to incorporate.

Honestly I don’t really have much to say. ¬†I just felt the need to write a post when I’m feeling good–not in a pit of despair like every other time. ¬†To let people know that we’re doing just fine. ¬†Slowly but surely. ¬†Surviving.


The Original Quiet Book, Part Four. Hooray!

Okay, this is it!!! ¬†My last three quiet book pages I made for J’s original quiet book¬†(check out parts one, two and three if you haven’t already), the cover and some general musings about the whole process.

Mailbox page is up next. ¬†quiet-book-original-mailbox-page-2 quiet-book-original-mailbox-page-3 quiet-book-original-mailbox-page-4This one is a two-parter. ¬†The left¬†page has a pocket to hold a few markers/pens and a pocket for a small notebook. ¬†The opposite page is the mailbox. ¬†These pages are¬†everywhere so you really shouldn’t have a hard time finding one you like. ¬†I modeled the pocket page off of this post and the mailbox from this one.

I¬†do not like these pages. ¬†The pen and notebook both fall out of the pocket all of the time. ¬†And the mailbox is junk. ¬†Which is due to my novice quiet book making status and sewing skills, not to Imagine Our Life’s instructions in the slightest! ¬†As you can tell from the picture below, my button and ribbon combination did not work well. ¬†J was never able to loop the ribbon behind the button, which I’m not sure if that’s due to the button being too small or the ribbon too thick or what. ¬†Either way the ribbon is falling off now.quiet-book-original-mailbox-page-1Technically the rest of the page works but I just don’t like how it looks in general. ¬†I made a similar page for Nolan’s quiet book, which I think turned out¬†much better. ¬†You can read about it here.mailbox-supplies-quiet-book-page-2 mailbox-quiet-book-page-2I need to ask Amanda how everything is holding up, and if it’s good then make a carbon copy of that page for C. ¬†And in J’s new quiet book just include a place for a small notebook and pack of crayons to be stored somewhere. ¬†You’re never too old to color!

The next set of pages are two that I added a bit down the road. ¬†When she was 3 she was absolutely obsessed with playing doctor for about 6 months. ¬†And I mean totally obsessed. ¬†The moment Hubby walked in the door until bedtime that’s all she wanted to play with him. ¬†She has a My Life doll we named Wendy and poor Wendy was constantly in fires and needed to be fixed up. ¬†It’s been two years since she’s asked Hubby to play it with him and I think he’s¬†still burnt out on it. ¬†But I thought a Doctor’s Kit would be a great addition to the book.
quiet-book-original-doctors-kit-page-2 quiet-book-original-doctors-kit-page-1Ugh, this is another one that makes me cringe when I look at it. ¬†I couldn’t find anything online that I liked and apparently this is what happens when I design a page myself. ¬†On the left¬†page I figured out a way to attach the stethscope. ¬†I took four rectangles of fabric about the same size, added velcro to each end and sewed half of each one directly onto the page. ¬†And then you simply slip the stethoscope piece into the flap and fold the other end over and secure the velcro. ¬†It works really well. ¬†The thermometer doesn’t actually go there (all of the loops are for the stethoscope) but J must’ve popped it over there at some point.

The opposite page is just three pockets to hold doctors supplies. ¬†The only thing that I found in there now is some gauze, but it used to hold a thermometer, a medicine dropper, a reflex hammer, an eye-checker-thing (obviously that’s it’s official name), gauze, two of those huge bandage things that you can use as a cast/wrap your ankle/sling/etc, and some bandaids. ¬†Oh and a few surgical masks. ¬†All of the stuff I either bought from the Dollar Tree or was duplicates of what she had in her doctor’s kit at home. ¬†And let me tell you: ¬†bandaids are a¬†brilliant idea for keeping toddlers occupied either at home or in the car. ¬†J would spend¬†hours putting bandaids on herself, her stuffed animals and us. ¬†Of course she was a good kid and all we had to do was tell her one time that bandaids don’t belong anywhere else except those three places and she remembered (and followed) that forever. ¬†Other kids may not be so good…

Although this page is perfectly functional I hate the fabric that I used. ¬†I tried and tried to find some doctor’s-type fabric but to no avail. ¬†I had a bunch of this crappy yellow stretch knit and figured it’d work fine, which it does…it’s just not appealing. ¬†And this is another example when it was a waste to use up two pages. ¬†One would have been sufficient.

I made a similar¬†page for Nolan’s quiet book, which turned out much better. ¬†Minus the fact that I majorly messed up the pocket so all of the stuff is going to fall out, hahaha. ¬†If C gets into the doctor thing I’ll make a page like that for him instead. ¬†You can see how I made it here.quiet-book-doctors-kit-page-6Last but not least, the rainbow and name page!¬†quiet-book-rainbow-and-name-page-2 quiet-book-rainbow-and-name-page-2 quiet-book-rainbow-and-name-page-1This one is okay. ¬†I got the idea for the name here. ¬†I saw a few sites where I could’ve used velcro instead, but that seemed too easy and there was a ton of velcro throughout the rest of the book, so I wanted something else. ¬†I think the buttons were too hard for J though, because she only ever laid the letters on top. ¬†And although I liked the idea of felt rainbow and thought it looked really neat, she only put it together once or twice. ¬†Either because she didn’t care or it was too difficult for her. ¬†Obviously she knows how to write her name now so this page can¬†go into the garbage. ¬†I’ll probably make one for C down the road but find a different way to attach the letters. ¬†Maybe snaps? ¬†Nolan will get a page like this first so I’ll experiment on him ūüėČ

So that’s it for the pages. ¬†Let’s talk cover now. ¬†I researched the crap out of how to make a quiet book cover. ¬†It’s been so long since I’ve made it that I really can’t remember much about it…except that I cried and seam ripped a lot. ¬†One thing I know for sure is that I did not like the ribbon for handles. ¬†It isn’t sturdy enough. ¬†Otherwise the cover is okay. ¬†I put a¬†ton of pockets on there, which is good since a lot of my pages wouldn’t actually hold the pieces so I needed some extra storage, haha. ¬†j-quiet-book-cover-4 j-quiet-book-cover-5 j'-quiet-book-cover-1j-quiet-book-cover-3 j-quiet-book-cover-2This one and this one¬†are two of the four blogs that I have saved that the links still work that I used as a reference…I have no idea what I took from where. ¬†However, you can read all about how I made Nolan’s quiet book cover here. ¬†That should help tremendously if making your own.

General thoughts:

  1. Hate the ribbon as a handle for the cover
  2. The pages are too big. ¬†I think I went with 12×12? ¬†So once they were finished about 11×11. ¬†Although great when spread out on the floor, it’s just not practical in the car. ¬†Way too big.
  3. Felt, iron-on Heat n Bond and muslin are not friends. ¬†As you probably noticed while looking at my pages, a bunch of the felt letters fell off. ¬†Which is fine…in retrospect the pages didn’t need titles anyway. ¬†Now ironing¬†fabric¬†on with Heat n Bond works great.
  4. Close/secure all pockets. ¬†It doesn’t matter what’s being stored in it or how big it is, it’s going to fall out.
  5. 3/8″ grommets are way too big for the pages. ¬†I couldn’t find anything smaller until I finally bought my Crop-a-Dile, which uses eyelets instead. ¬†Game changer.
  6. Making quiet books is extremely addictive. ¬†Going through and writing these posts have made me itching to make some more pages. ¬†We currently have three books: ¬†J’s Original Quiet Book, the ABC Quiet Book and a mini Baby Quiet Book (that C never played with even though I tried my hardest to get him to. ¬†Bastard.)

I think that’s it! ¬†Hope you learned lots of what-not-to-do things and got some ideas on pages that might work for your little one! ¬†Check back to see future posts about the ABC and Baby books!

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17 years.

So today marks 17 years since my mom passed away.  17 years.  I have officially lived longer without my mother than with her.

And yet I’m lucky to have had her for the 16 years that I did. ¬†My siblings were 10, 9 and 7 when she passed away. ¬†They lost the memory of her long ago. ¬†They probably don’t remember that…

…she used to run the gas tank in her car down so low that we frequently ran out of gas (I’m talking like once every six months. ¬†See Jeff, I come by that honestly!).

…she¬†worked for UPS during the holiday season.

…in the beginning of every year her and I¬†delivered phonebooks together. ¬†Our house was filled with piles and piles of phonebooks which¬†we spent hours organizing and then driving around and leaving on people’s doorsteps.

…I used to sell hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout¬†cookies thanks to her ingenious idea to go to the dorms at Penn State. ¬†She would help me organize and deliver every single one. family 1…she loved throwing parties for all of our friends. ¬†We would have a huge Halloween and Easter bash every year where approximately 30 kids would run rampant around our house and yard. ¬†We even had organized activities, like bobbing for apples, games, and easter egg hunts. ¬†And I thought hosting a play date with 4 little girls under the age of 5 was craziness! ¬†But I absolutely loved those parties¬†and want to carry on that tradition with my kids. ¬†099_fam 086_fam…Ty was absolutely obsessed with pigs when he was 4 years old and she nearly purchased a pot bellied pig to keep in the house. ¬†Thankfully she settled on a stuffed one 1-1

…she loved big hair. ¬†Hence why I got my hair permed all the time in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade (earning me the oh-so-creative nickname of “Poodle”) dads 50th 1and my sister had hair styles like this. ¬†dads 50th 1-1 family 1-3…she put everyone in every activity¬†imaginable–baseball, soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, baton twirling, volleyball, tennis, skiing, sewing, swimming…and those are just the ones that I remember. ¬†Plus we had two horses at one point as well. ¬†060_fam…she went all out for Christmases and birthdays. ¬†I cannot believe the amount of crap that we got every year!

…she worked at BiLo as a cashier for years and years and everyone knew and loved her (I learned my people skills from her, without a doubt. ¬†She would have been proud of the “Nikki Keck Fake Empathy Award” and my “Perkinator” name tag). ¬†She got me a job with her when I turned 16 and started off my 10 year career in the grocery store industry. ¬†Before her days in a grocery store she worked at Balfords, the dry cleaners.

…she locked her keys in the car almost as often as she ran out of gas. ¬†We had a bright blue conversion van for awhile and the only thing my mom loved about it was the fact that if she left the sliding window open in the back then she could boost Ty up and he could crawl through it and retrieve her keys for her.

…she would let us skip school one random day a year and we would hang out at home by our¬†pool all day long (another tradition I would like to continue).

…her and my father used to fight like cats and dogs and would have gotten divorced for sure if she hadn’t gotten sick (which is where my hatred of “staying together for the kids” was born. ¬†That is not a household children should grow up in).

…she liked to “borrow” things from places. ¬†Like when we went to a water park she¬†discovered their bright yellow life jacket fit Ty perfectly so she¬†smuggled it home. ¬†Or when we lost the puck for our air hockey table she tucked one from Chuck E Cheese into her bag.

…she desperately wanted a small car/convertible¬†and one day surprised my father in a not-so-pleasant way by pulling into our driveway¬†in a bright teal Geo Tracker¬†with a white top that she had purchased earlier that day without telling anyone. ¬†The car that became mine after she passed away and I absolutely¬†adored. ¬†I still get nostalgic every time I see one on the road…which is practically never anymore. ¬†Some day when when we have our “forever” home I’m going to buy one and leave it parked in the driveway just so I can look at it.B5136252_250…she loved the beach and we¬†went every summer for vacation. ¬†In the beginning we camped out on Assateague¬†with the wild horses. ¬†After our family size grew we switched it to staying in hotels at Ocean City, Virginia or Dewey Beach. ¬†076_fam…she was Eeyore in Disney World before I was born.

…she loved cats. ¬†We had several paintings of tigers and black panther statues. ¬†After she (finally) got her Geo Tracker she made sure it had one of those wildlife license plates with a tiger on it. ¬†She had a friend who worked for PAWS, an animal rescue in State College. ¬†He had two tiger cubs in the rescue (I have absolutely no idea why!) and one day she took us out there and we got to play with them. ¬†Totally against the rules so we were not allowed to be photographed with them. ¬†We had several outdoor cats. ¬†Tiger, Tigger and Boots are the only ones whose names I remember clearly, but I know there were several more. ¬†We were totally that family that didn’t spay or neuter our cats and poor Tiger had 14 litters of kittens at last count. ¬†Every time she had another liter we’d stick a “Free Kittens” sign next to our house and give them away to random strangers.

…she¬†loved yard sales. ¬†We had our own every year, plus we went to thousands of them every summer.

…every year for Halloween we all took a family trip out to Harner’s Farm when they were doing their “Get as many pumpkins as you can carry for $20!” promotion. ¬†She made my father stack at least 15 pumpkins in his arms and we’d take them home and carve every single one of them. ¬†And by “we” I mean she’d help us draw out elaborate pictures and then force my father to figure out a way to cut them. ¬†Sound familiar honey?

And most clearly I remember her coming into my room on Christmas night in 1998 and telling me that she had cancer. ¬†She had had it for awhile and what had started out as cervical cancer had spread all over her body and was terminal. ¬†She only had a few months left. ¬†I remember the medicine belt she wore all the time after that, hidden by her clothes. ¬†How tired she was. ¬†How hard she fought–hard enough to stretch her two months into five. ¬†Her last few days in the hospital. ¬†I didn’t spend nearly enough time with her in the end. ¬†I was 16; I had a job and school; I was in denial; I hated being at the hospital where she was in a morphine haze all the time and had no idea who any of us were. ¬†I remember having to call all of my friends when she passed away to tell them the news. ¬†How completely mortifying that was, which is one of the reasons why I’m so thankful for FB now. ¬†How much easier that made it to tell people about Zoe. ¬†I remember one of my friends, Shana, coming straight to my house that night after I hung up with her and dragging me to Perkins to sit there and just talk for hours. ¬†I’m still grateful for that. ¬†I remember going shopping for clothes to wear to the funeral with one of my “big sisters”, Sharon. ¬†I still have that outfit somewhere. ¬†I haven’t worn it since that day but can’t bear to get rid of it.

Every junior in my high school had to write a paper for English class and then read it aloud. ¬†I can’t remember what the topic had to be–a significant event in¬†our life? ¬†An inspirational person? ¬†I wrote mine on her. ¬†I remember reading it to the class, barely able to keep it together. ¬†My teacher asked if I wanted to be excused after I was finished and I declined; instead I sat in my seat and bawled while my two best friends comforted me. ¬†How mortifying. ¬†I have no idea what happened to that essay but I would give anything to read it again. ¬†I know there are things about her in there that have slipped my mind in the last 17 years.

Although I was luckier than my siblings¬†(and millions of other children who lost a parent so young)¬†in that I was older and therefore am still able¬†to remember her, I was still robbed. ¬†I never had the chance to have the relationship that so many people have with their mothers. ¬†I was a relatively good teenager, but my mother and I weren’t super close. ¬†I never got the chance to get past my teenage years and to have a close relationship with her. ¬†To have her see me get married. ¬†To introduce her to her grandchildren. ¬†To call her up for parenting advice. ¬†To have her comfort when I lost Zoe. ¬†Who knows if we would ever have had that relationship–we may not have–but the opportunity was taken before we could find out. ¬†In some ways the grief was easier for me than for others who lost their mothers at an older age. ¬†We both have to lose out on the same major things–weddings and grandkids–but since we never established a close relationship I don’t miss our conversations, her advice, our friendship. ¬†I miss the¬†idea of it, the missed opportunity, but it’s not something I had to learn to live without after having…I never had it to begin with. ¬†So now I think of her with sadness, sure, but a nostalgic type of sadness. ¬†A sadness for the opportunity¬†that was missed. ¬†A curiosity of what could have been.

Just like what my grief for Zoe will eventually turn into.

Miss you Mom.

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zoe 14

Advice for those who have lost a baby and to their friends and family. In a nutshell: hugs.

I had a perfect baby girl, Zoe, on February 14, 2016.  Although she fought as hard as she could in the NICU for 8 days, she was unable to make it.

I just learned that a friend from the past, M, lost his newborn baby. ¬†I don’t know any of the details beyond Nora¬†was born early, was in the NICU, and passed away a few short days later. ¬†He’s not a big Facebook person, so although we’re FB friends I don’t really know anything about the situation. ¬†Back in the day (over 10 years ago…I can’t believe it!) I used to buy alcohol for one of the guys I worked with, J, and all of his friends. ¬†M was a friend of J and we all hung out pretty frequently back then. ¬†Since M was more of a friend-of-a-friend I lost touch with him over the years. ¬†I think the last time I saw him was when J got married about 4 years ago. ¬†He was (and I’m sure still is) the absolute sweetest guy ever. ¬†Someone who doesn’t deserve to experience what he is experiencing. ¬†Although honestly, I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone, not¬†even¬†my worst enemy. ¬†Well, if I had enemies. ¬†I’m not the type of person who makes enemies. ¬†But regardless, it’s something¬†no one should ever go through.

J contacted me yesterday to let me know what happened. ¬†He apologized, saying that he’s sorry to say anything, he doesn’t want to make me sad with thoughts¬†of Zoe, but wanted to know if I had any advice for him as M’s friend. ¬†And to let me know that he shared my blog with M. ¬†Please, if anyone finds themselves in a situation where a friend has lost a child, don’t hesitate to do exactly what J did. ¬†The main reasons I write everything down are to help me work through things and to keep all of my friends aware of where I am emotionally since I don’t like to talk about it. ¬†But also to possibly help anyone else out there who is experiencing something similar. ¬†To let them know that they’re not alone. ¬†And that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. ¬†That there will come a day when you can breathe again, where every moment of every day isn’t consumed by what you’ve lost. ¬†I’m not there yet, but I am getting there. ¬†Please feel free to share my blog with anyone who needs it. ¬†If there’s the possibility of¬†any good coming out of this situation then I want to utilize it.

And never be afraid to bring up Zoe. ¬†Especially in a scenario like this. ¬†I don’t need a point blank question to make me think of her; she’s always in my thoughts somewhere. ¬† And although thinking of her makes me sad, it’s a wistful kind of sad, not a devastating loss anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot since I learned of the passing of Nora. ¬†About what I can say to people who¬†have been thrown into this god awful situation and to those who are friends with them. ¬†Because I remember thinking how bad I felt for our friends and family through the worst of it. ¬†I could only imagine how helpless they felt.

This is¬†based solely on what made¬†me feel “better”. ¬†Everyone experiences grief differently and I can only speak for myself.

To the bereaved:

  1. Exercise. ¬†Not for those endorphins, not for your health, not to lose weight (although all of those are obviously bonuses), but to get out of your head. ¬†Those 45 minutes a day where I put on headphones, blast upbeat music and workout so hard that I can’t think about anything at all except taking my next ragged breath are a life saver. ¬†10 weeks later I¬†still need that time every day. ¬†A guaranteed time that Zoe will not cross my mind. ¬†45 minutes where my brain empties out. ¬†45 minutes of freedom. ¬†I never feel better (or more like I’m going to keel over, haha) than when I climb down off of that elliptical or bicycle or put down my weights. ¬†Sometimes that feeling will be enough to get me through the rest of the day; sometimes it fades within minutes. ¬†But it doesn’t matter how long it lasts; the important thing is I have that time.
  2. Get help.  I never did this and I wish I had.  Sometimes I consider doing it when we get to Leavenworth.  There are support groups, both in-person and online.  These groups are catered specifically towards late-term miscarriages, stillborn and neonatal deaths.  There are counselors who specialize in grief, even some specifically in childhood grief.  Reach out and find help.
  3. Talk to each other. ¬†This is another one that I still struggle with. ¬†Jeff and I are fortunate–we have a very strong marriage. ¬†But it’s easy to see how this can tear a couple apart, even the strongest ones. ¬†Even though he’s the only other person who knows what it feels like to lose Zoe, I still have a difficult time talking to him about it. ¬†I think¬†because he’s the only person who completely understands. ¬†So find a way to communicate. ¬†Go to couples counseling (which we almost did when I was at my worst). ¬†Write in a blog/journal and let your partner read it. ¬†Any way you can think of to let him/her in on your feelings. ¬†You need each other.
  4. Let someone spread the news¬†at work and with friends and family. ¬†I can’t imagine how much more difficult all of this would have been pre-Facebook. ¬†I hated putting that on there but it sure was an easy way to make sure that all of those acquaintances that you never really talk to find out what happened. ¬†It’s certainly easier to write it down on FB than it would be to pick up the phone and call people. ¬†And it helps to avoid the awkwardness when someone doesn’t know. ¬†Jeff learned firsthand what a huge mistake it was when he asked his boss to¬†not tell people at work. ¬†A few days after Zoe’s death he went in just to pick up some paperwork and figure out his leave time. ¬†One of the guys he worked with came up, clapped him on the back and exclaimed, “Congratulations man! ¬†How are mom and baby? ¬†Anyone getting any sleep?”. ¬†Tears are coming to my eyes just thinking about how awful that had to have been for him. ¬†And it made his coworker feel like a complete jackass when Jeff had to inform him that Zoe died. ¬†There was no need to feel that way–he had no idea. ¬†Who could’ve guessed? ¬†The only way for him to find out is if someone tells him. ¬†As much as we don’t want people talking behind our backs, this is one scenario where it’s better than the alternative. ¬†Unfortunately when I returned to the gym and story time and various other places, there wasn’t anyone to do that for me. ¬†Believe me, I contemplated asking the regular front desk lady at the YMCA to put up a flier for me, explaining that “the pregnant chick who was always working out had her baby but she died”. ¬†It certainly would have made things easier for me. ¬†Just last week I had another random person come up to me and say, “Hey, aren’t you the one who was pregnant? ¬†You’re looking really great!” (which was a bit weird since it came from a 65 year old man. ¬†He wasn’t gross about it, but it was still a bit uncomfortable. ¬†I ¬†could tell he regretted his choice of words after they came out, haha).
  5. Accept hugs from strangers. ¬†By stranger I really mean more like people you know, but don’t really know. ¬†Dear God, please don’t go up to random people in the grocery store and say, “Can I have a hug?”. ¬†Like I’m going to mention here in a minute in the friends and family section, hugs are amazing. ¬†Hugs are almost a cure all. ¬†Especially when people don’t ruin them with words. ¬†The first time I went back to the gym and the front desk lady asked me all about the baby I burst into tears. ¬†She asked me if I wanted a hug and I told her no. ¬†As I continued to stand there and sob she told me she didn’t care, she was giving me one anyway. ¬†And man was it hard to let go of her once it started. ¬†That hug was¬†exactly what I needed at that moment in time. ¬†And sure, every time I check into the gym and see her I feel awkward remembering¬†that hug from a relative stranger, but I don’t care. ¬†Nothing could have felt better at the time. ¬†I didn’t want to say yes, but I wanted one so badly. ¬†So just say yes. ¬†It’s the right answer.
  6. Grief really is like waves. Those experts weren’t kidding about that. One minute I’m fine, the next sobbing for no apparent reason. It’s all consuming. It’s powerful. Let it consume you. Have a breakdown. Don’t fight it. It’s inevitable and the sooner you come to terms with that and succumb, the sooner you’ll be able to start to heal. This is another one I’m still working on.
  7. Whatever you’re feeling is the right way to feel. Sometimes you’ll be okay–that’s okay (better than okay–that’s¬†wonderful). Sometimes you’ll be a hot mess–also okay. Sometimes you’ll be angry, depressed, inconsolable, ecstatic, a zombie. Those emotions and thousands of more are all okay. Everyone grieves differently. There’s no timeline, no right or wrong way to do it. Go easy on yourself–the last thing you need is to feel guilty that you’re not “getting over it” fast enough or too fast. Do what you need to do.
  8. You’re going to regress. You’ll have some really good moments in the beginning…and then some good hours…some good days…eventually good months in a row. But it will hit you like a brick, seemingly out of nowhere. The first time I stumbled backwards I was devastated. I thought I was better; the grief had subsided. And it does–but not permanently. And just because you are back to being a hot mess doesn’t mean that stage is going to last either. Allow yourself to have a meltdown.
  9. Don’t¬†actually steal a baby. Hand-in-hand with having to tell people your baby died is seeing other babies and pregnant women in public.¬†Nothing will prepare you for that and it doesn’t get any easier. Leave if you need to. Ask to hold the baby if you think that will help. I never had the courage for the last one but I wish I had. You will now understand why some people steal babies. Empathize with them, but don’t actually do it! Grieving parents can get away with a lot, but I’m pretty sure that one is still frowned upon…
  10. It will eventually be bearable. There’s no timeline, no end date, but it will happen eventually. You’ll never get over it, it will never be okay, but someday you’ll be able to function like a normal person. Hold onto that thought. Don’t rush it; you’ll get there when you get there. But know that you¬†will¬†get there eventually.

To the friends and family:

  1. Be there. ¬†It doesn’t have to be physically, although that’s definitely the best way. ¬†As¬†much as I dreaded going home for Zoe’s memorial, it actually ended up being so much better than I thought. ¬†I was with my people. ¬†Just sitting around with my friends and family, the people who care about me the most in the world besides Jeff, was such a relief. ¬†To just talk about things. ¬†To just have company. ¬†Although I absolutely love everything that everyone sent us–the statues, the books, the jewelry, the flowers, the thing that meant the most to me was that J drove 3 hours to come to Zoe’s memorial, stayed¬†the 2 hours he had a sitter for, and then turned around and drove the 3 hours back. ¬†I had assumed that he wouldn’t be able to make it (which I would have completely understood. ¬†Things are complicated now with jobs and kids. ¬†I still feel awful that I wasn’t able to make it to Noelle’s mom’s¬†or dad’s funeral because of life, even though I know she understands). ¬†That’s friendship.
  2. Check in. ¬†Like I said, it doesn’t have to be in-person. ¬†The texts and FB messages just asking how I was every few days–those were just as important. ¬†Although there were times that I didn’t answer and times when I felt annoyed and overwhelmed by them, I needed them. ¬†I can’t talk about my feelings on my own–I need to be asked. ¬†Even though I still don’t like talking one-on-one with people about it, I’d much rather keep everyone updated through my blog, just knowing that people were thinking of me was helpful. ¬†I’ll never bring up my feelings on my own, and even though there’s a good chance that I still won’t be honest when asked point blank, there is still a chance I’ll talk. ¬†Give me the option. ¬†And don’t just do it the first couple of days, the first couple of weeks. ¬†Keep on checking in. ¬†Sure, it’s “easier” as time goes on, but there are still bad moments, bad hours, bad days. ¬†And the more time that passes the less¬†people ask. ¬†Be one of those people that sticks around.
  3. Less is more. ¬†There is absolutely nothing that you can say to make it better. ¬†I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. ¬†So don’t try. ¬†Offer a simple “I am so sorry for your loss. ¬†I am thinking/praying about you and your family.” ¬†Leave it at that. ¬†Don’t try to fill the silences, don’t drone on and on how she’s in a better place, how now at least you have a guardian angel, how at least she isn’t in any pain any more. ¬†Let¬†me say all of those things if I want to, and then agree. ¬†And honestly a hug goes a long way. ¬†A hug says it all. ¬†Those are the times when I would lose it around people–when I was being hugged. ¬†Opt for hugs, not words.
  4. Ask about the baby. ¬†My emotions aren’t the only thing I have a difficult time bringing up on my own. ¬†I won’t talk about Zoe unless asked. ¬†I know it’s dumb, especially with family and my closest friends, but I feel like nobody wants to listen to me drone on and on about my dead baby. ¬†It’s depressing. ¬†But if you ask me about her then I feel perfectly justified talking about her. ¬†And I¬†want to talk about her. ¬†I want to talk about what she’d be doing at almost 3 months old. ¬†About what it was like sitting by her bedside. ¬†About the songs we sang, the books we read, the nurses and doctors who took care of her. ¬†How much she weighed, her birth story, why we chose the name we did. ¬†She’s a part of my life and I don’t want to pretend she isn’t. ¬†Zoe changed who I am¬†more than J or C ever will. ¬†Jeff pointed out that talking about her is all we have left of her–of course we want to be able to do it.
  5. Opt for a donation over flowers. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I loved having all of the flowers. ¬†I debated even saying anything because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone think for a single second that we didn’t appreciate and love all of the flowers. ¬†But it was the people who made a donation in Zoe’s name to a cause related to her death¬†that I truly treasured. ¬†We had some people give to the Ronald McDonald house after I raved about them and what a difference they made in our lives during that week. ¬†We had some donations go to the American Heart Association since Zoe’s problem has yet to be diagnosed, but was related to her heart. ¬†Even if there wasn’t a cause or an organization that made a difference in the grieving couples’ lives, there are still places to consider. ¬†If they were amazed by the hospital staff like we were, donate to the hospital. ¬†There are organizations out there that help families that can’t afford it to bury their babies (had we opted to bury Zoe instead of having her cremated it would have been an outrageous expense). ¬†Grief support groups. ¬†Organizations that provide grieving families with “gifts” that I’m sure could use the money. ¬†Just find something reputable.
  6. Show that there’s still good in the world. ¬†One of the biggest things that has stuck in my mind through all of this is a gift from a random stranger. ¬†There was an envelope in my mail a few weeks back addressed to me with a return address I didn’t recognize. ¬†I opened it up to reveal a bracelet and a card. ¬†The card said simply “Nicole: ¬†Just a little note to let you know that people (some you have never met) are praying for you, baby Zoe and your family!” and was signed by a name I’d never heard before. ¬†The bracelet¬†is beautiful–it’s comprised of silver and amethyst (Zoe’s birthstone) beads and has a butterfly on one side. ¬†Most importantly, however, it also included¬†a typed note explaining that 20 percent of the proceeds from the bracelet are donated directly to a charity that assists families who can’t afford to bury their newborn children. ¬†The fact that some stranger would not only send me a note¬†and¬†buy a bracelet that not only honors Zoe’s memory but also gives to a charity that helps families in similar situations hit me hard. ¬†It was what I needed. ¬†So if you ever hear of a friend of a friend or read in the paper a story about a premature death, consider doing something like that for a stranger in need. ¬†So simple and yet it meant the world to me.
  7. Share. ¬†J did the exact thing he should have done. ¬†He passed along my blog to M and his wife. ¬†He told me what happened so I can also reach out myself. ¬†Please, if you ever have a friend in this situation (knock on wood that you never do),¬†please do what he did. ¬†The couple may not read it, may not talk to me, and that’s perfectly understandable and more than fine. ¬†But they may want to. ¬†Give them that option. ¬†I remember a few weeks after Zoe’s death I was having a really hard time. ¬†I went online to look through some support groups to see if that would help. ¬†It ended up having the exact opposite effect: ¬†I was reading all of these stories about people who 3, 6, 9 months later were still unable to get out of bed. ¬†Who were still completely consumed by¬†their grief. ¬†Who had made zero progress in healing. ¬†I was devastated. ¬†I couldn’t do that for 3 more months. ¬†Hell, I couldn’t do it for 3¬†more¬†weeks. ¬†Jeff’s cousin and his wife had a stillborn boy, Titus, a few years back. ¬†She had reached out to me a few times, letting me know that she knew what I was going through and was there if I ever needed to talk. ¬†I never took her up on it until that afternoon. ¬†I messaged her and told her what I had read and that I needed to know how long it took her to start healing. ¬†That I needed to know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. ¬†That some day I was going to be okay. ¬†And I didn’t need to hear that from friends and family who had no idea what it is like to lose a baby. ¬†I needed to hear it from someone who had been there. ¬†I needed to¬†know that it was going to be okay. ¬†So even if the couple you know doesn’t read my blog immediately or ever get in contact with me, at least it’s there if they need it.

Like I said, this is just what helped me. ¬†Some people may not want to talk about their babies. ¬†Some people may have no problem discussing their feelings. ¬†Some people may “get over” it easier or take longer. ¬†Just be there for them. ¬†Be willing to listen, any time, any place. ¬†No need for advice, for words of wisdom, for gifts, for anything except you. ¬†That’s all you can do.