“Life is Beautiful” – A Sermon for Stillbirth

To all my fellow babyloss friends.

End of the Rainbow

After the stillbirth of our twin sons, the church where Patrick serves as a pastor gifted him several weeks of bereavement leave – to recover, to mourn, to comfort his grief-stricken family, and to commune with God. At the same time, the church too was grieving for these two lost boys as well as for the pain of their pastor.

On the first Sunday of Patrick’s return to the church, this grief hovered like a dark cloud over him and over the entire congregation. It was at the forefront of every thought. Courageously, Patrick chose to name this heartache aloud and to vulnerably share his grief with the church, thus robbing the pain of some of its power. And in turn, he hoped that his grief would touch the grief of others, and together they would heal.

This is the sermon that he so bravely preached on this Sunday morning.

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Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, in common parlance)? Me neither, until I received an email from a creative writing studio here in Chicago, where I had taken a one-day “get yourself started” class a month or so ago. Of course, after filling pages with writing during the hours in the class, I hadn’t really written again since. I managed to follow step #1: put a paper and pen in a convenient, uncluttered location, ready to write. At least, it stayed there and uncluttered for a day, maybe two, before my work papers took over. To be honest, I’m not even sure where that notebook ended up at this point.

When my wife told me of a writing accountability group to which she belongs, I signed up. I affiliated myself with my last university (it’s geared towards professors engaged in academic writing), and thus, here I am on day two, plugging away on a new blog post (I wrote by hand yesterday, and I did the full 30 minutes in 15-min increments!). Since I’m here by obligation, though (okay, that’s disingenuous – I did sign up because I ultimately wanted to write more), I don’t really know what to write about today. And since I just wasted so much of your time explaining why I’m even writing at all, I’ll save the actual very good and relevant story of my friend’s baby loss – and her turning to me, and how I was able to provide some support – for another day. Look at me, promising another day of writing!

Today, if you’re bothering to stick with me, I’ll tell you a bit about how I’m feeling today. It’s November 8, 2016. The US is on the precipice of a very unusual and important national election, one in which one candidate claimed women “ripped babies out of them” at 9 months pregnant. I can’t even begin to tell you how horrifying that statement was, how harmful to women suffering the very real loss of their children in the third trimester. Of how, because I am part of so many loss mom groups, it meant that woman after woman shared their horrifying, tragic story of having to choose to deliver in the third trimester because if they did not, they would die, or because their baby was “incompatible with life.”

In fact, the friend who came to me had just that trauma – a fatal diagnosis, a burgeoning health crisis, a choice between delivery and the hopes of seeing her daughter alive, albeit briefly, or carrying until her daughter became stillborn inside of her, daily putting her own health and life at risk. How dare anyone vilify and even criminalize women and men who have to make these choices, every day? These are people choosing life, ironically – choosing a life of as little suffering as possible for their precious children. Choosing their own life. They have enough grief without public figures saying they should be punished, and graphically commenting, with derision, on what is for most the saddest and most heartbreaking thing they will ever go through in their lives.

I hate that he is even one of our choices. I hate that people have such a narrow concept of pro-life (and even of abortion, though that’s not even the topic here, despite his attempt to conflate the two). I hate that families making the hardest choices are being used as political fodder to stir up anger and hatred. We deserve so much better. We need to be so much better. Tonight, we will find out if we are, in fact, so much better than this. Please vote, Americans. The world is counting on you.

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In case you needed to see this today…

Why You Didn’t Fail As A Mother, by Angela Miller. 

You may even wish to buy her beautiful book – you won’t regret it!

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“Everything doesn’t happen for a reason”

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: “Everything happens for a reason” is a harmful platitude that is simply untrue. Things happen, yes. Some people feel compelled to assign “reasons” as to why these things happen – fair enough. But this platitude is damaging and cruel, and here’s someone who says why far more eloquently than I could.

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Two “miracles,” and my response

Below is a post from a friend of mine on FB, and my response. How did I do? I wanted to say so much more…

The post (slightly edited for confidentiality):

“Let me tell you a story about miracles, Gods grace, and the power of prayer. On Monday, March 7th (husband) and I welcomed our twin girls into this world at just 33 weeks gestation. (A and E) were born strong, mighty, and loved. They were also two of the most prayed for babies I’ve ever known. At just 16 weeks gestation these two survivors underwent in utero laser ablation surgery at (hospital) to correct their twin to twin transfusion syndrome — a disease with a mortality rate of 90% for one twin and 80% for both if left untreated. These little angels have fought for their lives from day one and we feel so blessed that after they had to spend 3 weeks in the NICU we are all home together and starting our life as a family of five. This last year has been filled with some of the scariest and trying days of our lives but we are so grateful for our family and friends who have supported us through this journey. We are forever indebted to the amazing doctors at Hopkins fetal center for saving our sweet babies and for all the other medical professionals who helped ensure our babies safe delivery. Mostly though we are grateful that God has entrusted us with the lives of these sweet miracles. During some of the darkest days this past year Laura Story‘s song Blessings helped get me through so before the onset of baby pictures begins I’ll leave this post with some of her lyrics

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise”

My response:

“Iam SO happy that your baby girls were saved and made it home with you safely! I did want to privately let you know, though, that the way you phrased it on FB was a bit hurtful. I know several babies who have died due to TTTS, and they were also very loved and very prayed for. When my son died, who was also very much wanted, very, very prayed for, very cared for by doctors, I struggled a lot with my faith. When the survival of some babies is attributed to God’s favor and trust, it again challenges the faith of those of us whose babies didn’t make it – and I don’t think they died because God loved them any less or was punishing us as parents. I KNOW that wasn’t your intent and I’m sure you feel blessed by God’s grace and favor… just…. a thought.”

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He’s doing well

Recently, friends of mine had 24-week twins. One died shortly after birth. The other is doing well at almost 7 weeks old. I was so scared for them when I heard the twins were born so early. My heart sunk when they lost one of their beautiful little boys so soon, before even really getting to know him.

My heart continued to sink when their surviving twin had issues so similar to Anderson’s, at first. Lots of desats. Bradys, which Ander didn’t even have. He was smaller, fragile.

Yet. He has now lived more than twice as long. He’s gained nearly two pounds (!). He’s off the vent. He’s thriving, and he’s surviving, and on one hand, I am so relieved and so happy for them. They already lost one son; it would be so cruel for such deserving, loving parents to lose their remaining little boy. They fight for him every day, keep vigil, cheer him on with a good team of doctors.

On the other hand…. I’m… jealous? Bitter? Of course, I don’t want anything but happiness for them and their son. But on the other, it just feels so unfair. Why is he living while Ander died? Are the doctors better? Did they do something mine didn’t? Why, in such similar situations with such similar cases, did my son have to die?

It’s not easy to read about this little boy. But I do, and I will, because he deserves it.

Even if Ander did too.

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Sharing Hope

I think it’s an indication of how lackluster I’ve felt lately about writing that this post is about the season of Advent, and it’s currently Lent. The good news for my few remaining followers out there is that I’ve joined a Facebook group that will be encouraging me to write each day for a 30-day period for healing and renewal, so hopefully I’ll actually have the motivation to stick with that. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with work and life lately, and of course the first things to drop off my daily plans are the things that help restore balance and energy in my soul: exercise, writing, time outside (well, the latter most is due partly to winter in Chicago). Isn’t that the irony.

Anywho, I had the wonderful opportunity this past Advent to take part in my church’s novel approach to a seasonal meditation. One of our pastors conceptualized a podcast-style reflection of the season, with each week leading to Christmas having a theme: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. My wife and I were asked to interview each other (StoryCorps style, if you listen to NPR) about hope, and we agreed, knowing it would provide us a wonderful opportunity to share Anderson’s story and speak to hope after loss.

Here is our podcast, and our story (it’s the one at the bottom of the page, “Hope.”) Even if you’re not Christian, I think you will enjoy this (it’s not particularly religious). We loved being able to talk about Anderson; any day we can share his story is a good day.

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A new home

This past December, we moved.

It wasn’t intentionally, which I recognize seems an odd thing to say about buying a home. We had been looking at Open Houses for over a year, after all, getting a sense of what we wanted. Every Sunday after church in the warm months we would don jogging clothes and plan a route in a new neighborhood, stopping at each Open House to poke around. So we had a good sense of what we wanted, and this past November we were on just such a tour (though walking; we aren’t as ambitious when it’s cold out) when we walked into the home of our dreams.

“It’s too bad we’re not prepared,” we said to each other. “This home would be perfect.” So that we wouldn’t miss another opportunity, we contacted a realtor that evening and applied for a loan. Our realtor heard our story. “There’s no reason why this house can’t be yours,” she told us. Long story short, within a week our offer had been accepted; within a month, we had moved in.

What does this all have to do with baby loss, you may ask?

We moved to Chicago 2.5 years ago, into a lovely apartment in Little Italy with a rooftop deck and grand view of the city. That apartment was intentionally two bedrooms, one for us and one for the nursery we desperately hoped we’d need very soon. It became the apartment I got pregnant in (sort of), carried Ander for 24 weeks in, bled in, rushed to the hospital from, came home from the hospital empty handed to. It was the apartment that was filled with shelves of Ander’s blanket, hospital bracelet, pictures, his ashes. Out of my bedroom window, I could see the hospital where he spent his whole life.

We are now only 15 minutes away from there, and we return to that same hospital on a semi-regular basis for all of our family doctor appointments. We walk through our old neighborhood at times, but it’s not the same. Ander is with us; of course. His presence fills our new home, pictures of him grace the hallway, the office, our bedroom. His candle, his ashes, they are of course still with us. Yet moving felt like a small, new grief-hole all the same. We have literally moved on.


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And my absence is due to…. *trigger warning: rainbow*

As some of you know from following me either here or at Autostraddle, I was expecting Anderson’s little brother in August 2015. Well, he has arrived, and boy, it’s hard to get to a computer when you have a newborn. So, a very belated post from his first six weeks of life is below. At times in the future, I may update you all on new baby Z, but this is still Ander’s blog, so there will be warnings if baby GZ is mentioned.

I have learned, already, that it takes about six weeks to come up for air. Well, to be fair, we’ve been on several outings; my internet presence has more taken a hit because these are the nicest months in Chicago and therefore spending my now extremely limited free time in front of a computer seems sacrilegious. But let me start at the beginning, or his beginning anyway.

I slept remarkably well the night before the scheduled c-section – better even than my wife. We had to be at the hospital to check in at 6 a.m. for an 8:45 surgery, and that’s when the waiting became pretty unbearable. They took me to the prep area, I was hooked up to monitors, got asked lots of questions, talked to the anesthesiologists, nurses, doctor, and the surgeon. I was really anxious for the surgery and in retrospect, in some ways being under general anesthesia (as I was last time) was preferable to the waiting and the expectations.

I was most apprehensive for the epidural/spinal block as I’ve heard some nightmare stories of reactions, and I must admit, it wasn’t pleasant and I would have liked to avoid it if it were possible. One, the initial numbing shot was painful, despite the two kind nurses holding my hands (K wasn’t allowed in until the last moment). A student placed the catheter, which was fine, he did perfectly (according to his supervising doctor, who was very reassuring for me as she kept saying things like “wonderful placement, excellent job.”) Despite the attempts to ward off nausea prior, I did have to turn my head and puke into a cup the student held for me, but it all worked as it should, and I was numb soon enough and the show began.

My friend described the sensation like “rummaging around in a purse,” and it totally felt like that. No pain, but you can feel where they are in your body. I kept thinking they were taking the baby out, but it was just my organs (talk about disconcerting). The surgeon was going to do a transverse incision this time, but he discovered that my previous classical scar was thinning dangerously, so decided to repeat that cut so that when they closed me up they could add sutures and try to make it stronger so that subsequent pregnancies would be possible. It’s still hard for me to reconcile the thought that one freak condition in my first pregnancy has threatened all subsequent chances at having children. Some things aren’t fair.

But then – he was born! And crying! I had asked for very few things in my birth plan – delayed cord clamping, and skin-to-skin and breastfeeding as soon as possible. Now, our hospital is wonderfully militant about the latter two things anyway, so I wasn’t surprised when the nurse first opened my gown, then laid him on my chest for a bit, then held him upside down over my shoulder as that was the easiest position for him to nurse in with me so covered up. It wasn’t quite what I envisioned, but I can’t complain at all – I had my baby nursing while I was in the OR getting sewn up. Not for long, but enough for me to feel like I got everything I could possibly get considering the circumstances. Then my wife got to hold him as they stitched me up and we rolled into recovery.

All the mother-baby rooms were full; a lot of people were checking out at and then the rooms needed cleaning, so we were in recovery for a while (ironically, when I checked out not even half the rooms were occupied – I guess “feast or famine” is typical in an L&D unit). I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere anyway, since my body temperature was hovering around 95.0 and I wasn’t allowed to leave until it was 97. So I was piled with warming blankets (I didn’t feel cold at all, but I guess being in a cold OR and having your innards exposed tends to cool you down). Our chaplain friend from Ander’s stay in the NICU stopped by because she knew we were going to be there, and we just relaxed and cuddled the baby. The good part about being in recovery so long was that by the time I left, I was feeling really well – all the epidural effects had worn off.

We named him Graeson Robert (the “son” is a nod to his older brother Anderson). He was in the average range for head circumference and length, but was considered small for gestational age, so he had to undergo a battery of tests, including sitting for 90 minutes in a car seat strapped up to sensors to ensure he could maintain an open airway and circulate oxygenated blood. They had to do that test while he was sleeping, so they started at midnight on our second night, which was traumatic for me – it was the same oxygen saturation monitor that Ander was on that kept plummeting for him. Graeson passed with flying colors, but that beeping machine had me on edge for the whole time, despite our attempts to distract ourselves by watching HGTV. He passed all his tests, actually – including GAINING weight even in the hospital, which our pediatrician called “unprecedented.”

So here we are! Settling into life with a newborn, which is still rather surreal. I can’t believe I can just pick him up and cuddle him whenever I want. I’m so accustomed to asking permission to hold other peoples’ babies. I’m glad I overprepared to be incapacitated, because now that I’m actually pretty functional it feels remarkable.. The only bummer at first was his smallness on outings – he was too small for all the carriers to be safe, so we could just do stroller outings. We were a little surprised that our pediatrician said we could take him out whenever we wanted, as long as we avoided crowds and made anyone holding him wash their hands. For some reason I think we both thought newborns were more fragile and needed to be inside for the first few weeks, but apparently not, which is also good for our own sanity.

So far, we’ve made it to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (including the butterfly exhibit and our first nursing-in-public in a gazebo in the English walled garden), to three different beaches, for several walks in the neighborhood (including lunch and dinner in the park), to the Art Institute and to the Arboretum. I’m just as surprised as anyone that we have managed all these things, though we did have ample help from both my parents and in-laws. Having them here really forced me out of my comfort zone, which was probably good for me, since I was really crippled by anxiety at first.

I’ll never know if my anxiety is normal new-mom jitters or a consequence of having already lost a child and knowing from my doctors that I shouldn’t try to get pregnant again for another two years at a minimum. The exhaustion set in around week three, and that’s when I had a few grief meltdowns too. You see, we wanted another boy, and Graeson looks just the right amount like Ander – basically identical except Ander had distinctive golden blond hair, while Graeson’s is a red-brown like mine. I think in a lot of ways it’s better that way. There are already too many moments where I’m startled by how much he looks like Ander – and unfortunately, the moments all bring me back to Ander dying, because that’s the only time we saw him without any tubes or tape on his face. So Graeson living sometimes reminds me of Ander dying, which is a bit of a jolt. Mostly, I am taken back there when I have G asleep cradled in my arms, head thrown back and mouth open. Once, my wife sang a song to Graeson to get him to sleep that happens to be one that we sang to Ander as he was dying (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) and that made me cry and just feel really sad for a while.

There were some happy “Ander moments” too. On Ander’s last night, our wonderful NICU nurse brought in her Nikon and took hundreds of photos of his last day, many of which we have hanging in our house and which we will cherish forever. The same nurse excitedly came to our house after Graeson was born to take a photoshoot of him, too. We haven’t seen the final photos yet, but her compassion, love and talent ensure they will be just as cherished as those of his brother.

To end on a lighter note, here are the top six things I have learned in the first six weeks of parenting a living child. Hopefully, some of this will help all you other invisible mamas with rainbows on the way!

  1. You can’t really have too many swaddles or burp cloths. You will never use either more than once, or twice if you’re lucky, before it’s covered in breastmilk/poo/pee/spit up. Same goes with your own bed sheets.
  1. Relatedly, it is true that you will do laundry every day. I didn’t actually believe that one, but then we had to change our sheets nearly every night for a week due to baby vomit. (Note: he doesn’t even sleep in our bed, and yet this managed to happen.).
  1. Navigating “helpful” parents and in-laws is harder than parenting your newborn. Example: when you are strapping your child in his car seat (perfectly competently) and suddenly have two extra pairs of hands trying to “help” you, which really just makes the baby irritated and makes it impossible for you to actually buckle the straps.
  1. I would love to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Could someone please get my child to sleep for longer than 30 minutes at a time? He’s one of those babies who needs help falling asleep on his own, which means we must either strap on the Boba (a Moby-like wrap) and go for a walk, or practice the Karp method of soothing (swaddle, sway, shush, side/stomach, suck) or some other active thing to get him to take a nap, particularly from 8-11 a.m. and 8-11 p.m. Usually we manage to get him to sleep right about the time he is ready to wake up to feed again.

​​5. I get why people would have baby wipe warmers, particularly at night. I have solved this problem but just letting him stew in his dirty diaper for most of the night. I know. Not ideal, but you try getting a screaming baby to nurse happily and fall back asleep at 3 a.m. and let me know if you’d do anything differently! 🙂

6. Despite being somewhat constrained in my daily activities, this parenting thing in the first few weeks isn’t a bad gig. In fact, I watch so much daytime TV that maternity leave feels like a bit of a racket. But don’t tell my boss!

And… pictures.

Baby feet

Sleeping on MamaC


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Choosing a sperm donor

K actually requested this post, so I wanted to oblige! We get this question a lot from well-meaning friends (many of whom are also going through the same process), so it does help to have it written down here for posterity. Or something. In any case, I present: How We Chose our Sperm Donor (for Anderson and Baby Z #2, who have the same donor dad):

1. We first chose our bank. Our doctor gave us a list of accredited sperm banks with whom they work; there were approximately 10-15. We went to each site to compare ease of site use, price, storage options, donor availability, etc. There are both benefits and drawbacks to using a local bank: the sperm can be delivered the same day, but there are often limits to how many times a donor may be used in a particular geography. We ended up choosing a non-local bank for two main reasons: one, the website was very easy to use and had a lot of information available on the donors. Two, they didn’t tier prices. Some banks had premium fees for their “Nordic line” (true phrase) or donors with MDs and PhDs – sometimes double the less desirable donors. We were not interested in that kind of racism/classism so we chose a bank that had a flat fee no matter which donor you chose. These guys spend a LOT of time getting to and through the donation process. It sucks that some are treated like second-class sperm citizens :).

2. It was important to us to have a baby who looked like us. It’s not important to everyone, but with two moms we figured baby would face some natural stigmas (even in our liberal city) so we wanted to pave the way for him to the best of our ability. Additionally, we wanted it to be visually obvious – to the extent possible – that he belonged to both of us, for those times when we were traveling to less friendly locales, or just walking down the street. So, as I would be carrying, we looked for a donor who looked like K’s brother in height, build, and coloring. For us, that meant around 6’1″, blond, blue eyed, slender. It wasn’t terribly hard to narrow it down based on those criteria – we got around 6-8 hits in that general look. It’s much harder for multiracial families, who might only have one option per bank :(.

3. We browsed the donors’ medical histories, which are free. We eliminated those who had conditions that ran in my family (alcoholism, for instance, is in my family – we didn’t want it to also be in our donor’s family). We looked a little at ethnicity; K is German and English (though as a spoiler, our donor was Polish and Irish, so close enough?). Upon our doctor’s advice, we eliminated those who had not yet had a successful pregnancy.

4. We started getting superficial. I eliminated everyone with terribly poor grammar/spelling (it just drives me crazy, and we had to narrow it down somehow). We paid surprisingly little attention to education other than that, primarily because so much of one’s education is based on one’s own family upbringing and where they grew up. K and I both have advanced degrees, so we are fairly confident that our child will feel supported in learning and will have the opportunity to get a college education if he/she chooses. It’s one of those nature/nurture things – and honestly, while we want our child to enjoy learning and school, college isn’t the most important thing in the world.

5. When we had it down to two, we ordered the full profiles which included baby pictures, essays, and a more complete history. We loved both donors. One reminded me of my dad (he even had the same niche career as my grandfather), and the other was very athletic (a plus in our sports obsessed, competitive family!) and kept emphasizing his strong relationship with his family. A positive and loving relationship with parents and siblings was important, especially to K, as that’s something that is harder to “teach” – more nature than nurture. Ultimately, we would have gone with either, but one was Anonymous and one was Open, meaning our child could contact him when he/she turned 18. After some debate and chatting with friends, we went with the Open donor. It just felt right to know that at least we hadn’t taken the choice away from our child. Plus, while some banks charge a lot more for Open donors (meaning we would have had to tell our child that we couldn’t afford it), ours was the same fee. It seems almost cruel, then, not to.

So there you have it. Our five basic steps in the sperm donor choosing process. If you went through this process, how did you choose? How do you think we did? 🙂 Note: we think Ander was pretty cute!

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