Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Year In the Life

One year ago today, I became a bona fide published writer. I was ecstatic to get my first piece published and to share my words and story with whoever was interested. I knew that writing for sites other than my own would give me more exposure (and money!) and I am proud of each and every piece that I have written.

I started writing for one site, and now I write for three. The rush of seeing my name on the byline never gets old. I have received such tremendous feedback from my work that it sometimes overwhelms me. But in a very good way.

My memoir is a work in progress. It's difficult to go back through my life and determine what is relevant, relatable and exciting to others. I think it is close to where I want it to be and with any luck, I will have it edited and proofed by the Fall and maybe even published by the end of the year. I am still trying to determine the best avenue for it. Don't worry. I will get there.

The hardest part of being a writer is that I spend my writing days (and often those surrounding them), going back over the times and experiences in my life that have been most painful. I want to share the story of my first born daughter. I want other parents like us to know they are not alone and I want other people to get some insight into what it is like to lose a child. I hope that the lessons that I have learned will help others someday. If I can take what I know and possibly help someone else, then I feel like the lesson was worth learning. 

Surviving was not an option for me. It was just something I did. With the help of my family and friends and support group and even my social media friends, I got up every day. I took a shower. I made breakfast. I kept going until it was routine to do all those things again and not something I had to check off a list just to get me through.

Then came our rainbow. Parenting her has been the most exquisite joy of my life. I am so worried about her growing up in her sister's shadow, though. My words help me through some of that anxiety and remind me that I am doing the best that I can and that has to be good enough. I cross my fingers every day that it is.

Being a non-fiction writer means I have an obligation to tell the truth. The truth can change with the story teller, but I owe it to myself and those that read my words to tell the most accurate truth that I can tell. 

Losing a child is torture. Mind-numbing, soul crushing pain.

Raising a child is a privilege. Also sometimes mind-numbing, but the pleasure I get from even the smallest smile is enough to keep me going for days.

Stillbirth, adoption, grief, parenting...all are key words I have used in this past year for my published posts. All are words and ideas that I will continue to explore in my writing.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. 355 personal blog posts since 2011. 40 professional published posts since August 22nd of last year.  Two daughters. One heart. Mine.

Can't wait to see what the next year will bring!

Enjoying life as a paid freelance writer!

Recently found the list we started with baby names. Turns out we did not need to go past the letter A.

Double rainbows!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rainbows Have Nothing To Hide

If you follow me on Facebook, then you probably saw this blog coming a mile away. I have had post after post of a weekend getaway with my Rainbow Moms, and it was nothing short of amazing.

In my life, there has been no greater tragedy than my daughter's death. Learning that my daughter had stopped breathing while she was still inside of me, attached me, was almost more than I could take. I am not sure how my heart kept beating when hers stopped.

Six years later and my ache for her is still so real that I feel like it's sitting next to me some days. I love it when people say her name and when people remember that I had a child before the one they see me with at the mall or at the park.

I miss her with every fiber of my being. My husband feels the longing the same as me. After all, she was as much a part of him as she was of me. I will always remember counting her toes when she was delivered and seeing how they were chubby like a baby, but long like her daddy.

I have come to learn in those years, that there are others that feel the same emptiness. They are the parents who also had to say goodbye before they even barely got to say hello.

I spent the weekend with seven of those moms (and one very courageous dad to put up with us all!). We were together to celebrate a milestone birthday for one of us, and it was just the best.

Those of us that made it to the party all live far apart. We drove hours and hours, made carpools, shared rooms and did not think twice about it. We greeted each other with warm hugs and did not want to let go. We started with some cocktails as soon as we checked in and many of us did not stop celebrating until about eight hours later.

We laughed. We danced. We shared stories. We talked about nothing. We talked about everything.

I do not remember saying Allie's name at all on this weekend. But she was with me, as she always is.

Our shared grief has turned into such a bond that we live in the present and not the past. We tend to talk more about the children we are raising than the ones that stay forever young. We call ourselves the Rainbow Mamas and not the Dead Baby Mamas. We are about living and surviving and not death and dying.

We all know the bonds that brought us together cannot be broken. We all wish that those babies were alive and that we never had to even meet each other. We all know they are not and that the friendships we have formed in their honor is the next best thing to them being here.

It's a crazy kind of club. But it's our club. And I love these women in a way I never thought possible. Even when they get "Despacito" stuck in my head. Even when I have had too much sangria. Even as I belt out all the words to "Hungry Eyes" and "Living on a Prayer" when the cool girls are singing to Bell Biv DeVoe.

I know that they will not bring my daughter back any more than I can bring their babies back. They can, however, help me be a strong and courageous mom for my living child and make sure the memory of my baby born still is never forgotten. 

To Skylar, Leo, R.E., Jameson, Gianni, Evan, Tylee and Allie...thanks for giving us each other.  And thanks for helping us have yet another night to remember!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What My Day Looks Like On The First of Every Month

It's early in the morning on August 1st when I sit down to my computer. First, I invoice my largest freelance client for the work I did last month. Next, I e-mail my daughter's birth mother.

Since today is a Tuesday, Miranda has camp. Gary brought her in today and by 8:15, I have finished both tasks.

The month has barely started, and I am ahead of the game.

It's been four years since we adopted Miranda. Close to five years since we decided to use open adoption. While we know it is in the best interest of our daughter, I know many people wonder how we can do it.

To us, it's simple. One day, Miranda will want to know how we came to be her parents. She may have questions about her birth family. She may want to know certain things that Gary and I just don't know. In those cases, we can direct her to M, with whom we visit twice a year, send monthly emails and have Skype calls when it works with all of our schedules. M can attempt to fill in the blanks.

It's not the traditional way to parent. It's not the easiest way to parent. I think, however, it is what is best for Miranda. And in the end, that is all that matters.

As a parent, your needs often come second. Or third. Or last. It's an adjustment, for sure. It's also what is right and fair for the child or children you are raising. Whether they came from your womb or not.

I wrote a piece on foster care and adoption that should be out later this week. In it, I mention how "love makes a family - not blood." I stand by that. I really do.

Sometimes I wish that I was the only mom in my daughter's life. Sometimes I wish I did not envy her birth mother for the time she got to spend with my daughter before she was born. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that the daughter I carried is not here with me.

Instead of shaking it off and telling myself to get over it, I am learning to face the things that I do not necessarily want to see. There is only so much I can control and trying to change history and alter the past is not going to do anyone any good.

I was meant to be a mother. Allie, my sweet butterfly, who flutters around so vibrant and bright and Miranda, my precious rainbow, who teaches me about unconditional love, infinite patience, and sweet compassion. I was meant to mother them both.

The rest is just background noise. I can let it in when I need to, and I can tune it out when I need to. That's what works best for me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life's A Beach

My daughter looked at me before camp yesterday and said, “I am 100% tired.” She then rested her head on my lap. Unfortunately, it only stayed there for a minute before we had to rush out the door.

I am a planner. I plan my days out so that they can be as productive as possible. As a mom, I am in charge of so much. It falls on me to make sure the laundry gets done,  the meals get planned and often cooked, the house gets cleaned, and the activities get figured out. 

Am I guilty of over planning? Do I want to do too much?

My first daughter was delivered still born before I had a chance even to hear her cry. Her death devastated me changed the course of the rest of my life. I was unable to get pregnant again, even with medical intervention. After physical, emotional, and financial strain, we finally made the decision to adopt as a way to grow our family.

We were picked to be my daughter’s parents within weeks of applying. We passed the home study and background checks and had just started to get our hopes up when we got the call.

I do not take being a mom for granted. It was a much harder journey for me than I ever expected and because of that, I let me true colors shine, and I plan and plan and plan.

All the planning in the world will not bring my first daughter back. But that is not what I am trying to do.

I feel like I was given a second chance. And no way am I wasting a second of it.

My daughter is in preschool three days a week. She can get social skills and learning in that time frame, and I can work on my writing. It’s perfect for us.

On the days that she is home with me, we go to the mall or the library or the playground or the movies or the local pool or a play date or …oh wow. That is a lot of planning.

I want my daughter to want for nothing. I want her to have every opportunity in the world.

So why was she 100% tired? The day before, we drove about four hours roundtrip for just a few hours on the beach. It was worth it to hear her squeal at the waves. It was worth it to see her bury her legs in the sand. It was worth it to feel the way I felt when I watched her play with wild abandon.

So I will keep planning. And we will keep exploring. And when she is tired, I will make time for rest and naps. And when she is awake, then away we shall go. There is far too much to see, too much to do, to sit home and miss it.

Being a mom is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. But it is also the most rewarding. Every day, I look at her face, her shana punim as my mom would say, and I am reminded how lucky I am. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lost and Found: Memories of My Youth

One of our big projects for 2017 has been to turn our basement into a playroom for Miranda. Whether that means to formally finish it or just clear enough space to put an arts and crafts table down there remains to be seen. None of that matters until Gary and I clean out all of our stuff.

When we bought our house in 2009, we were not even engaged yet. He had a lifetime (and U-haul storage locker) full of items, and I had sold my condo and had all that stuff. For the most part, our things merged together nicely and what did not fit, went to the basement.

Over the years, we have purged certain things. We made a baby section for Allie's things when it turned out that she would not need them. Then we made a section for Miranda's things when it turned out that she outgrew toys and furniture and clothes even faster than we could imagine. In time, with a toddler and work and life in general, the basement became a mish-mosh of everything. Order was pretty much lost, and chaos prevailed.

When we were at the beach earlier this summer, Gary came home for a few days to tackle the basement. He generated a lot of trash and started to make sense of the madness. So far, we have donated close to 10 boxes/bags to the Veterans Association of America and sold close to $100 in items that were useful, but just not to us. We also found a family that was not able to spend money on a new foster child that they had taken in and gave them bags of stuffed animals and toys. The feeling of being able to help that family was one of the best feelings I have had yet.

This weekend, it was time to start working on my section of the basement. I quickly found high school yearbooks, my sorority pledge book, prom pictures, USY pictures, handwritten letters and more. I found piles of things from when we cleaned out my dad's house when we first moved him into a nursing home. I discovered haircuts that no one should have ever paid money for and a lot of outfits that, simply put, were not very flattering on me.

I was chock full of emotions, and I opened box after box. Settlement papers from my first house, bank statements reflecting different careers, baseball hats, straw hats, sun hats...none of which did I ever remember wearing so why did I keep buying hats?? Office supplies from different desk jobs, framed art from various walls that used to surround me and boxes and boxes and boxes of books.

In April 1992, two months before my high school graduation, I found a national newspaper in which I had a poem that ran. It was my first published piece. Who would have known it would have taken me until May 2011 to start writing again?

I found so much that was lost to me and also found so much that could have stayed lost. Letters from my dad during the time in which we did not speak that were not very positive. Pictures of myself from when I thought I was heavy or overweight and I really wasn't. And last but not least, a picture of the boy to whom I lost my virginity, and it turns out that he was much hotter in my memory than on faded film.

I have more to go through before I can pack it all away again. My one friend offered me her fire pit and some wine to have a bonfire to get rid of the bad memories. I seriously considered it until I realized that all of my past makes me who I am - the good and the bad. The lost and the found. So for now, I will throw out the trash but keep the memories. For they are all a part of my story. And I still feel like I have a story to tell.

High School Graduation
Junior Prom with Josh Allen. I had a crush on him since at least 9th grade. He was a terrific date.

Most Likely To Be In A Broadway Play - NPHS 1992

Estelle & Me (Her daughter Hannah was the one who was Bat Mitzvahed back in March.) Estelle was the first one who suggested I blog. Friends since 3rd grade.

Kara & Me. Met my sophomore year of high school. Inseparable ever since. Eventually got our own hairstyles. Throws good bonfires.
Bradford & Me. Met in 1997 or so, through our mutual friend, Amy. Miranda wants me to marry him so that she can marry Gary. It's an ongoing conversation.
Miranda playing in her newly renovated, almost-ready play room.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Weight of Water

I love the water. I always have. I love to take baths. I take extra long showers whenever I can. I love to swim.

My love for water has been passed down to my daughter. My husband and I were talking at the pool earlier today that he enjoys the water, but not as much as me. He might be right. I really do love it.

I so enjoy the feeling of being weightless. Fighting every calorie I have ever seen since I can remember has made me have so many negative feelings about my body. Except for in the water. In the water, I am not any size or shape. I am just free.

I love the feeling of being a part of something that is bigger than me. Something that makes me feel small.

Indoor pool or outdoor pool - ocean or lake or cranberry bog, I love it all.

We just signed Miranda up for swim lessons. She can hold her own in the water, but I want better for her. I want more for her - in the water and out.

Being a mom is kind of like floating in water. You are constantly fighting to keep your head above water. You know how sweet the air will be in your lungs if you can just keep your head up. Kick and swim and paddle and repeat.

I want so desperately to make sure my daughter knows no pain or heartache or suffering, but I know that experiencing all of those things is going to make her a strong woman. So I just have to let her learn certain things on her own.

Life with a four-year-old is not easy. My daughter is stubborn and headstrong and as defiant as we will allow her to be. Every night at bedtime, we battle to go to sleep. This has been going on for almost half her life. We encourage her to find her voice, but often times, it seems like we are drowning, just trying to keep it all together.

In the months after Allie died, I found it hard to sit still with my thoughts. Self-loathing, self pity, and overall selfish thoughts seemed to seep into my everyday psyche. But not when I drew myself a warm bath. The negative thoughts could not find me there in my safe place. Eventually, the water just washed them all away.

Yesterday, Miranda asked to see a photo of Allie for the first time. I think she is starting to understand her a little bit more. Miranda still says she is my only daughter and my only baby and I try not to correct her too much, as she is still so young and I want her learning about her sister to be gentle and gradual and not a punch to the gut. So I showed her an ultrasound picture that we have framed in my office. She said it was too hard to see. She didn't like it. The only other photos I have of her are when she was born, red lips due to lack of oxygen and a still and silent look on her face. I will share those photos with Miranda one day, but not for a long time to come. For now, she has to make due with the black and white computer image.

It's sad. It makes me sad. But I love that Miranda wants to learn more, and I love that I can talk with her about the baby that first made me a mom.

I needed the pool today. It washed away all my pain. I am looking forward to going again soon.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Vacation or Relocation?

I love a good vacation. Always have. I love the planning and the anticipation and the experience of discovering someplace new. 

Once Miranda came into our lives, I knew I wanted her also to enjoy vacations. So I have made it my mission to make sure we do something special each year.

The first year, we went to the mountains. Some family joined us, and we made a lot of great memories. I got really sick and was in bed for a bit of the week and Miranda was still napping twice a day, and we didn't do much, but we did something. I will always cherish that first trip away and always laugh at how much I had to pack to make the mountain house pretty much a replica of our house at home.

The next year, we went back to the mountains. Different house, but same area. By this time, Miranda was too big for the pack and play so we put her in a twin size bed. We installed a bed rail and hoped for the best, but she crawled out of that bed each and every day and that vacation marked the end of naps for her as well as easy bed times. Two years later and we are still dealing with her crawling out of bed at bedtime and wanting to play. Still, I will always look back on that week with joy as we really had a great time overall.

The next year we went to the beach. Oh, how wonderful that was for us! I decided then and there that we would continue to visit the beach and often as we could and that the ocean was where we were meant to be. We talked about that week all year long.

This past week, we went back to the beach. The salt water, tram cars, Kohr Bros custard, and sandy beaches are what vacation is to me. This year, my mom joined us for the whole week, and that was a real treat for all of us. The weather was wonderful, and we had the best vacation yet. This vacation was the first one that did not feel like a relocation. This vacation felt like an actual, well, vacation!

Now don't get me wrong. There was no sleeping in. There were no naps on the beach. I brought down a fresh new book that never even got opened. I did read the back of several suntan lotion bottles and once, in the bathroom, the first few pages of Entertainment Weekly. And yet, it was still the best week yet.

Sandcastles were built, seashells were collected, suntans were worked on, and boardwalk games were played. Bedtime was a breeze for the most part because Miranda was so exhausted each night. I taught my daughter how to pee in the ocean, and she taught me how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. We laughed, we shared stories, we made memories and we got some real quality time together.

I am not sure how much Miranda will remember of this age, but I know that I will remember it all. And if in time, the memories just become feelings, that is ok, too. I get a feeling when I walk on the beach - a familiar feeling of all the times I have walked on the beach before. Walking with my dad, walking with my friends during Senior Week after high school, walking with my girlfriends on our annual GWA (Girls Weekend Away), walking with my husband on our honeymoon, walking with my best friend a few weeks after Allie died. And now? Walking with Miranda. The sand remembers, and I count on it to do just that.

I wonder what beach we will go to next year? I can't wait to start planning. For now, though, I want to keep this vacation close to my heart as it really was so wonderful.

I love a good vacation.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Samantha Forgot

I recently finished watching the mini-series Big Little Lies on HBO. I absolutely adored it. The character development and the plot twists were so creative and intense. Before I knew it, I finished the series and I wanted more. So I found a book by the same author and excitedly began to dig in.

What Alice Forgot was an incredible read. I barely put it down. In my quest to be a better writer, I am trying to experience all sorts of writing. I am a big fan of this sort!

The main character of this book, Alice Love, falls off her spin bike at the gym and when she wakes up, she thinks she is 29 and not 39. She lost the last 10 years of her life, And she can't seem to get them back. I won't spoil the book by explaining any more, but I will illustrate how this book changed my thinking.

What if I woke up today and thought I was 33 and not 43? That means it's 2007. I was working as Marketing Coordinator at Dorman Products and living in my condo in Roxborough. I had just shed a lot of weight on Nutrisystem, and I was scouring the online dating sites like they were a second job.

My life consisted of work, the gym, my kitty cat Zoe, and my friends and family. I went to concerts and spent a lot of time trying to figure out of I liked beer with hops or without. There were also many wine festivals in there, too.

My one brother was married - my other one was not. There were no kids in our family yet, and my mom was constantly reminding me how sad that made her.

My dad and I saw each other but not all that much. He supported me and tried to be interested in my life, but it seemed like it was hard for him to focus on just me when we were out together.

There was a guy at work named Gary that I went to lunch with every once and a while. I am not sure I knew much about him back then.

Around that time, I remember talking to my mom about the idea of me becoming a mom, She pointed out that I could do it myself if I really wanted to. I did not. I wasn't sure I ever wanted to be a mom, and I knew enough from my friends that it was a lot of work and the idea of doing it solo held no appeal.

I was happy back in 2007. My life had meaning, and I was fulfilled by my work and my activities outside of work. I loved my condo and was proud that I owned it. I loved my little VW convertible, too, although I think I sold it a year or two prior.

If I woke up today and saw my wedding ring, would I remember the story behind how I got it and the man who gave it to me?

If I woke up today and felt my c-section scar, would I understand why it was there? Would I forget the agony of delivering a baby that never cried? Would I also forget the joy and elation of carrying her all those months?

If I woke up today and a little blonde haired girl kept calling me "Mommy" and expected me to make her breakfast and play with her, would I know who she was?

If I woke up today in the bed I have slept in for the past eight years, would I know where I was?

Lucky for me, I took one spin class once and felt so faint that I am not likely to try that again. So the odds of me falling off my bike and losing my memory like Alice are very slim.

Which is good, Because I love my life now, scars and all. The past decade has been an incredible journey for me, and I would not be who I am not if I missed it. Not even close.

Happy in 2017

A Year In the Life

One year ago today, I became a bona fide published writer. I was ecstatic to get my first piece published and to share my words and story wi...