75%

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.

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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.

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 😉

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 instead.family 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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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.