Friday, February 27, 2015

Lyn E. Sturdevant, Jr.

On Benjamin's third birthday, we said goodbye to a man our family was so lucky to call (great) Papa. He was kind, intelligent, and had a huge heart. He was always a tight hugger, engaging, and someone you knew would enjoy hearing about all of the adventures you were on. 

He and (great) Gramie were married 68 glorious years and had five kids of their own. And then the grandchildren and great grandchildren in abundance.

We last saw Papa at Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania. He was growing weaker, but his mind was so strong and he even played a number of hands in poker (and won one!). He was a World War II Vet that served in the South Pacific and often had stories to tell. He was an esteemed engineer and world traveler. He and Gramie visited every continent and spent time in many, many countries together. He definitely made marriage, fatherhood and life count. He had lots of love to give. He was 93 when he passed away.

We're so grateful to have had all the years we did, and I'm so grateful to have known Papa for about 8 years of my own life. Papa is loved. Papa is missed. And Papa is now holding our Andrew. There are few people I consider honored to be caring for our precious boy, but Papa is definitely on that list. 

Meeting Ben. Meeting Claire. Family. Four generations at ages 0 (Ben), 30 (Dad), 60 (Grandpa), 90 (Great Papa)
It's also very apparent my children are extremely bald individuals as babies. But Papa? A full head of hair at 93.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When I Wore It Last

not hiding the mom belly. don't care.
My husband's birthday falls eight days after Andrew's birthday. We had intentions to celebrate early (because the baby was coming and we'd be so busy!) using a Groupon at this fun fondue restaurant downtown. We figured it would be awhile before we'd get out to the city and have that nice of a date night for months.

We had a reservation for Sunday evening, December 5, 2010.

It's rather obvious, now, that we didn't make that dinner reservation.

After coming home with an empty carseat, we didn't know what else to do but reschedule that dinner reservation and celebrate Andrew's dad for being born anyway. We couldn't find anything else more important to do.

I was swollen, bleeding, and we were defeated. I wore this sweater for the first ever to that dinner date. I felt so ashamed for having a dead son and failing him. That my body failed him. I wanted to hide all parts of myself that resembled being a woman and especially a woman who was ever pregnant. I remember having a hard time finding something to wear. It had to fit the full criteria of being something: I did not wear while pregnant with him, fit over my swollen belly and didn't look horrible, and was not maternity branded. I hated the thought of wearing anything I'd worn while happily pregnant while in mourning and it took me a long time to be okay with that during Benjamin's pregnancy. Luckily, I borrowed most of the maternity wear while pregnant with Andrew, so they were returned to rightful owners as soon as I could get them out of my house. Not fast enough.

I was left with very little to chose from, so grabbed up this sweater and put it on. Maybe it was grief, but I hated the way it looked on me.

We had fondue. Some of the worst I'd ever had and I remember the very popular restaurant being packed, the dust that was stuck to the lampshade and fake flowers that decorated the poorly lit (romantic?) place. I remember the corner we stood while waiting for our table to open up and how I didn't feel like casually ordering a drink at the bar, though do remember drinking wine with dinner... because WHY NOT? I wondered how all those people could be celebrating and having Christmas get-togethers. I kind of thought they all knew what just happened to us and how I felt like my entire body was exposed. It was really cold outside, but part of me wonders if my grief made it feel colder. We valet parked. We rarely valet park.

I remember thinking it would be a terrible sweater to wear if I were a breastfeeding mom. And it is. One of the worst. Claire is down to three feedings in a day and I never feed her in public anymore, because she is fed around sleeping times. I picked that sweater up today and put it on. It felt just as wrong today as it did that evening. I wore it all day.

It's the last time I'll wear that sweater. I'll donate to the local consignment shop that supports programs that help victims of domestic abuse. Someone will buy it for $2 and wear it, having no clue how much emotion was underneath those fibers at one point. I'm glad to see it disappear.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Letters to Andrew

Dear Andrew,

I cannot get the memory of sitting in our car after finding out you were a boy out of my head these days. It had nothing to do with gender, and still doesn't. It's all about the person you were that made your identity known to us in that moment. We fell in love, so in love. We're still in love.

I was writing an email to someone named Andrea the other day and could not prevent myself, even while being very conscious, from slipping and writing your name instead. One letter off and something I'm so familiar typing. Your name. Not so much in manuscript, but typing, often. I loved making that mistake. 

No matter the distance and no matter the amount of time we had with you those short 38.5 weeks, you are always missed. Every last inch of you is missed and even the (many more) inches you would be now. The words you would be speaking, the food you would be enjoying, the birthday party theme you'd choose and Halloween costume you would select. All missed.

Your brother saw a picture of your little feet this morning and immediately said, "Those feet are Andrew's." You may have never been introduced, but the missing is not an ounce less. In fact, it's grows with each sibling we've added to the family, one more person missing your daily presence.

Mom, Dad and your younger siblings, Benjamin & Claire miss you.

Love (Abundantly),

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Naptime Scare

Claire's Friday nap brought me a big grief scare. These don't happen much with Claire, but we used to have daily scares with Benjamin. If he were to fall asleep in his carseat, he looked dead. I can't tell you how many times we pulled over the car to jerk him so we could see if he would flinch. If we had a false alarm from the AngelCare (hooray for the double sensor pad fix!), we were practically brainstorming his obituary. It was pretty horrible and quite neurotic. Sadly, we couldn't do anything to fix our fears. We were re-wired that way on December 5, 2010. 

I burst into her room at 4:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon after staring at her on the Dropcam and seeing no movement as her brother spent the better half of thirty minutes yelling loudly, slamming doors and playing around upstairs. Classifying my kids, Benjamin is the heavier sleeper and she's the lighter. She is almost always awake by 3:30 p.m. and nearly always because of the noises from her big brother. Friday, she wasn't even flinching and this noise-making session went on for 1/2 hour. I ran into my room to grab the AngelCare parent unit before I made the decision to storm her door, but it wasn't charged. I was convinced I had forgotten to turn it on or it had malfunctioned. 

Instead of heading downstairs for the second unit, I had to get in there. I ran in and immediately rolled her over. She was on her stomach in the same position she was when I left the room at 1:00 p.m. I knew that from the Dropcam. I immediately felt warmth, but didn't trust it. Finally, she moved. She was zonked. But alive. Of course she was alive. She is 13 months and the majority of babies who make it this far are alive. Then she cried the cry of a baby who was pretty pissed I'd just woken her up from a deep sleep.

But that PTSD? Came right back in like it had never left. 

I put the most recent story of SIDS I've been editing for Faces of Loss to blame for this one. Sometimes I just can't shake the fears that are clearly still harboring in my bones from losing Andrew. There's nothing I can change, and yet, I spent the greater part of an hour after that literally shaking. 

And smothering my kids with kisses. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sibling Jealousy

I thought we would've been at the peak of jealousy before now. Even somewhat over it. But as it turns out, the jealousy appears to just be at the beginning.

Benjamin spent roughly 25% of his waking hours this weekend throwing temper tantrums. Despite this, we still managed breakfast at the donut shop, a fun S.T.E.M. program for dads and their preschoolers at Benjamin's school, his first Spanish class and a dinner at our favorite restaurant.

Somehow. And really, he was good for all of these events. It was the before/after and transitions that made the weekend more hellish. Fighting for independence is at an all time high with the almost-three-year-old.

I wish I were exaggerating about the meltdowns. One of them even went so far that Benjamin opened both garage doors and ran out in the wet (snow melted) garage and started throwing things off the shelves, without shoes. If you know this kid, you know he hates getting anything on him that is messy. His socks were soaked with dirt and muck and he didn't care. Tantrums are out-of-body and completely irrational. To make matters even more fun, our neighbor saw him escapades, making us thoroughly embarrassed.

The majority of the tantrums happened at home. He's incredibly destructive, so he's now banished to his bedroom where all of his toys have been removed except for stuffed animals and some books on very high shelves. He's made dents in the walls, broken wall socket covers and nearly pulled pictures off the walls (thankfully they are slightly too high for reach).

It's exhausting. He's like Jekyll and Hyde. One minute he is hitting and kicking and flailing and the next minute, he is hugging you, giggling and telling you how much he loves you.

With Claire, he's intentionally mean the majority of the time. It's now to the point where I cannot be out of the room if they both are in it together. I must be present at all times, because even if she is by herself in the corner, he will manage to find something she has that he needs and lays the smack down. She whimpers in fear when he comes near her. It's really quite sad. He randomly walks over and hits her, quite often, and for no apparent reason. She then cries and we console her and then he gets jealous she is getting our attention and acts out again. It's a vicious cycle that pleases no one.
Literally seconds before/after
I know that he is learning that the world doesn't revolve around him, but it doesn't make it any less obnoxious. I know he's just two (three in two weeks!), but honestly. It's making some days really unpleasant.

And the big problem is, this is a two-way street. Claire is easily just as jealous of Benjamin. When she sees me reading him a book, she immediately crawls over and fights for front and center attention and screams like someone is wronging her in the worst way. The poor toddler never gets the quantity of books read to him that he was so accustomed to before she was so mobile and assertive.

In a short time, they will both be way more grown and (hopefully) use other forms of communication to express their interests than screaming (and hitting and biting and kicking) that is currently favored. I keep telling myself that. And even then, with all the unpleasantness that comes with having two small kiddos vying for your attention with overboard jealousy, there are far worse alternatives. Alternatives like, not having them here at all. That bit is never, ever lost to me.

I've personally published over 50 stories on Faces of Loss in the last two weeks. They are heart-wrenching. I have a story as well, but now I know the inner feelings of 50 more families who lost at least one child each after we lost Andrew. I bet they all wish their kids were screaming and biting and kicking. Anything is better than the silence.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Paying it Forward: Faces of Loss

In January of 2011, I was one month out from losing Andrew. In my email inbox was a message from a girl in Canada who had just lost her son that month. She had read the story I submitted to Faces of Loss and connected with me. Daily emails ensued. The following year, I had my rainbow baby, she had hers, and I drove to visit her. I actually met her in person at a Chinese restaurant, rainbow babies in hand, on my 30th birthday. It was somewhere in Waterloo, Ontario. Benjamin was not a pleasant restaurant guest (not much has changed) and I was super nervous.

The next day, we drove to her house and stayed two nights with their family. The following year, in June 2013, that friend brought her daughter and husband to our house here in Chicago, and 12 others joined. Laura and her husband (and many others) stayed a few nights with us. We've had many g-chat sessions and more emails than I've probably sent anyone in my life over these four years.

Last month, we flew to Vancouver and rented a house in Whistler for four nights with Laura and her family. This time, there were four rainbow babies present. We hit up the spa together, stayed up nightly lounging with beers in hand and chatting about life as it is with one child missing and two before us. It's natural now.

All of this was the result of the Faces of Loss website, founded by Kristin. As a result of Faces of Loss, Laura found my blog and email address, and sent me that first message. The message that told me I was not alone in that exact moment. The one where I knew that someone else, just 8 hours driving distance away, was missing her firstborn son as well. I read about a girl named Caroline and her son, Cale. We're now great friends who have also personally met multiple times now. This connection to blogs then connected us to one another and it was sort of a game of telephone that trickled out as we all added more to our connection base. As a result of Faces of Loss, I am now personally connected to (and frequently meet, chat, or email with) about two dozen babyloss friends who are on a similar timeline to my loss. Most now have a rainbow baby or two. They supported me heavily through my subsequent pregnancies like no other friends could have. Like my friend Brooke said in a recent post, they not only could say "I'm sorry," but "Me too."

That bit was really important. My friends who never experienced loss like I have were still wonderful and appreciated. But I needed those friends who could fully empathize and commiserate (now still!) with what I have been through in losing Andrew. Faces of Loss brought that to me. Faces, stories, timelines.

I followed Faces of Loss, but then had to take a break while I was pregnant with my two rainbows. I just couldn't manage reading the stories and igniting that fear. I was more interested in distracting myself from the reality of actually being pregnant. For sometime, the stories trickled in and then somewhat slowed to a stop. Running a non-profit website with volunteers who are busy and working and caring for children is a tough job! Story submissions were waiting to be published and there were just not enough hands on deck. Another fellow friend, Amy, worked tirelessly and often alone to keep things afloat with story editing and publishing, but just couldn't manage all that was coming in on her own. Concurrently, I was receiving emails from friends who either lost a child or knew someone who did. They wanted guidance. I desperately wanted to send them to Faces of Loss, because that was my greatest hope after loss. But, I couldn't. Stories were not being published and I didn't want them to feel more isolated in their grief.

Back in December, I sent out an email to some fellow babyloss friends who had been volunteers for Kristin's non-profit website. I was curious about volunteering and how all that worked. I really wanted to get this thing up and working again. They sort of challenged me about volunteering myself.

I thought I couldn't. I was knee-deep in potty training and told myself that if I finally got the toddler to take action on the potty, I'd consider it. I told my friends Laura, Molly, Caroline and Brooke. They also challenged me, encouraged me and let me know they were interested in taking on equal roles with me to get those stories posted for other loss families to read and connect with; that Faces of Loss made a profound impact on them. Molly told Keleen, and she wanted in as well.

Benjamin finally potty trained (and hasn't looked back, people!). I shot the email off to Kristin about our interest to get stories up again so newer loss families could connect and create relationships like we all have. She was thrilled to have more volunteers and sent over instructions. Faces of Loss was created out of Kristin's longing for her own Stevie Joy. But like many of us, she has a very busy job and has two rainbow babies at home as well. It's her lovechild, we're just trying to nurture it.

As of Tuesday, January 27th, Faces of Loss is now up and running after 10 months of dormancy. Forty-seven stories have been published as I type this, with more in the queue. Here's to connecting families and creating lifelong friendships with people who can also say, "Me too." And please. If you would like to support and read the stories from families who have waited a long time to be connected and have their stories read, head on over and check them out. I'm sure they would appreciate some comments, words of encouragement, and maybe an email or blog visit. The site is still undergoing maintenance, so please be patient. But the most important aspect, the faces and stories are up and running! The Facebook page is even up and running again, thanks to Caroline!

Also, tell your friends, encourage them to submit their stories and submit your own

*Our goal is to have all submissions in the current queue posted in February and all submissions to follow within a week turnaround, just as the site states. All details on how to submit are here