Thursday, April 28, 2016

Gentle: When Being Kind to Yourself Does NOT Mean Living in Denial

So it's prom season again.

My Facebook page is filling up with gorgeous photos of my friends' kids and their dates. They look sparkly and happy, but the images sting because Jack won't be at prom. The pictures come in dribs and drabs at first, like early spring flowers, but when our local high school hits prom night, my feed will be full.

And it should be.

Friends need to be able to show off their children's milestones, as I did with Margaret's Confirmation two Sundays ago, and the stream of Baby Andrew pics I've been inundating you with.

Expecting people not to post happy moments like prom seems excessive and ungracious to me. And what about baseball team photos, Easter Egg hunts, college visits, and first day of school photos? I mean, where would my censorship stop? Sharing joy and documenting milestones is part of doing life together.

So instead of wishing the photos weren't there, because they remind me of what Jack is NOT doing this spring, I ask myself, "What can I do to be gentle on myself?" whether it's about prom, Christmas, or some other important event, of which there are many. National Siblings Day? Dear Lord.

Perhaps I can decide I need to stay off social media for a few weeks when I know it will be roughest. I am not willing to log off permanently, because social media has been key to me for acknowledgment, support, connection, and healing since losing Jack. Or, I can decide to dip my toe in and look at the photos, seeing if I can experience gratitude that I have friends in my life who are willing to share the good times, and the hard times, with me. One approach isn't better than the other, and each day is different.

In the same vein, perhaps some readers of An Inch of Gray and my Facebook page may need to step away for a while because of Baby Andrew's birth. My sweet little late in life bundle brings joy and wonder to many, but could also bring great pain to those who are in the trenches of baby-loss or infertility. I applaud anyone who is gentle to herself in this small way, stepping away when needed-- life is hard enough as it is.

Gentleness can take many forms. It could mean limiting one's exposure to certain friends who leave you feeling hurt, depleted, judged, or misunderstood, or declining to attend a baby shower or family gathering because it's just too difficult right now. It could mean skipping a school meeting or event now and then or choosing to go to a different grocery store, one that is not laden with memories. I have one friend who is very involved in her family's church, but she does not sit in the sanctuary during worship because that is where her son's funeral was held. She has not opted out of worship entirely, or of God, or community, but she does this one small thing to be gentle on herself each week.

Opting out of some things does not mean a person is living in denial-- it can be a form of self-care. Avoiding certain grief/pain triggers does not equate to avoiding life. A hurting person has many hours in each day to confront loss-- it's inescapable really-- but that doesn't have to mean diving right into the fire at every single opportunity.

Self awareness is always a good way to be gentle with ourselves and understand ourselves better. I mean, if we'd never cultivated any self-awareness, we might have thought it would be a great idea to attend that one ex's wedding in our late 20's, you know, the one with the open bar?!

Some triggers are obvious, and others more subtle.

When my family moved 2 years ago, our new house's location meant we would have to drive, an average of 6 times PER DAY, over the stretch of creek where our son's body was found. A house in almost any other section of town would have let us avoid the creek altogether, or encounter it maybe once a month, but that is not where we ended up. Fortunately, the creek is no longer a grief trigger. I can drive over it again and again, see the cross a friend erected the morning after Jack died, whisper, "Love you, Baby." or "Love you, Jackie" and go about my day. Perhaps driving over it so many times has actually helped diminish the pain seeing the creek could cause-- a kind of exposure therapy, I suppose. Moving out of our old neighborhood was one big way we found of being gentle on ourselves, even though we knew it would be daunting and expensive. Driving over the creek is one result of that move, but fortunately, it has not been too difficult for us.

My triggers may be very different from yours.

Being gentle could mean staying home from church on Mother's Day with a pint of Ben and Jerry's, or going ahead and attending church and giving yourself permission to cry openly or duck out early.

Gentleness does not have to always be opting-out of things, but could also be OPTING-IN. It could be calling a friend and saying, "Next Wednesday is going to rough on me, and no one really knows that, but I am going to want some companionship. Could you be with me?" Pro-actively letting others know how to help us, and giving them the chance to care for us well, is a form of OPTING-IN. My sister usually OPTS-IN to an ice cream cake on the crapiversary of our mother's death, forks and sharing optional.

OPTING-IN could mean finding the perfect, foul-mouthed friend who will let you be snarky, sarcastic, or irreverent for a while, hissing, "Screw prom!" (or class parties, or Valentine's Day, or kindergarten orientation), knowing that you'll rejoin the well-mannered classes after you've vented for a while. It could mean OPTING-IN to a family gathering or memorial, knowing that it will be draining and hard, but giving it the small chance to open you up more or feed you in some way.

OPTING-IN could be finding an absolutely different thing to do, such as traveling somewhere exotic on Christmas Day, joining a writer's workshop, or taking up running. Often, when you have lost much, trying something new isn't as scary as it once was.

Life is hard. Life is Good.

And an important part of life is caring enough to learn ways to be gentle on ourselves.

Have you discovered ways to be gentle on yourself?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Birth Story

Andrew Luke is now 10 days old, even though we are not quite to his due date of April 17.

Are you ready for his birth story?

Last Saturday we went to Margaret's lacrosse game. I was almost 38 weeks pregnant. This picture was taken a week or so earlier, but you get the idea.

 My feet were ready to POP.

Later that night, we attended a birthday celebration for our friend who passed away in December. We headed home around 10:30 in a crazy wind storm, and I eventually went down to my twin mattress on the floor of the basement, the only place that has felt comfy for me in a while.

During one of many night-time bathroom breaks, I felt my way up the stairs in the dark and realized the electricity was out because of the wind.

Still 2 weeks from my due date, but feeling "ready" and having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions, I decided it was probably a bad idea to give birth alone in a basement with no electricity. Therefore, I slowly made my way up to Tim's and my bedroom in the dark and got an hour or two of sleep.

As soon as I stood up on Sunday morning, I felt a huge gush of water, as if someone had dropped two watermelons full of liquid on the floor at my feet.

It was GO TIME.

I called out to Tim, "The baby's coming!" and made myself a makeshift diaper out of towel, trying to figure out how to get dressed with the water still pouring out. I found an adult diaper, quickly got dressed, grabbed my bag, and we headed downstairs. Little did I know I'd be wearing adult diapers for the next week, maybe longer.

Our friend Jenn showed up within 10 minutes to take care of Margaret and the dogs, and we were off!

Sunday morning traffic meant we got to the hospital in only 20 minutes. I will say that Tim backed up a tad on the exit ramp of the highway when he missed a turn. Nerves. We pulled up at the hospital and he started pulling into the parking garage. I looked down at my enormous girth and said, "Nope. Nope. Drop me off." We pulled up to the hospital entrance, got waved in by attendants who let us leave our car there, and headed to triage.

At this point we had left a message with the OB's office, and we wondered which doc would be on call on a Sunday morning. The hospital was eerily quiet and felt deserted.

We still didn't know whether the baby had gone back to breech position in the past few days, and whether I would need to have a c-section.  Because my water had broken, and the clock was ticking, it was important to see if he was breech because otherwise his cord could have come out first, which is very dangerous. The triage nurse decided to check me. It felt like she was so far up in there that she was scraping my eyeballs. Boy, did that hurt, but the baby's head was down! This would likely be a vaginal birth, and the cord was NOT hanging out!

I thanked the baby for being so obliging to stay head down, and for having my water break, which is the golden ticket into the hospital instead of laboring and waiting at home, which would have made me very nervous since we were so far from the hospital.

After a while in triage, with Cindy Crawford's gorgeous 48 year old self soundlessly hawking moisturizer on the tv on the wall, we got moved up to L&D.

Happy Face:
 Worried Face:

The adorably pregnant nurse was named Andrea, so I told her if she did a great job, we would name the baby after her. Hee Hee! Andrea...Andrew, get it?

I felt no pain or contractions at all, but was going on the belief that once things got moving, they would get moving fast, only because that's how it was with Jack and Margaret. Before long, my sister arrived from 2 hours away. I didn't ask how fast she'd driven. I worked on a crossword puzzle while Tim watched some baseball on tv.

It was not lost on us that we were having a baby on Opening Day of Baseball Season, something Jack would have LOVED.

Even though I wasn't in pain, I got my epidural as soon as the anesthesiologist was available, and I'm so glad I did! As soon as they started the pitocin, to move the labor along, things did, indeed proceed quickly. The doc checked on me and I wasn't dilated much, so she said, "See you in 2 hours." I looked at Tim and my sister and mouthed, "It's not going to be two hours."

So true.

Bam, bam, bam the contractions picked up! At some point, the nurses became concerned because the baby's heart rate kept dropping, yet I wasn't having contractions. I could feel that I really WAS having contractions, so I had Tim time them for me. Turns out the sensors on my belly were faulty and were not registering the contractions. Once they figured that out, it was less stressful because it's not unusual for a baby's heart rate to drop during a contraction.


As I predicted, within just a few minutes of the doctor leaving, the nurse called her back to prep for delivery. I was fully dilated, in pain, and convinced I was going to poop all over the place. "This is going to be a real shit show," I said, warning Tim and my sis. I squeezed their hands hard and braced myself both for a small amount of humiliation/diarrhea and a large amount of joy.

The doc told me to push, and the good news is that the the poop was really a beautiful baby. Three quick pushes and he was out!

No longer could I be in denial about being pregnant or about having a baby at 46. It was real! My body did it! It felt as familiar as it had the first time, 17 years ago.

They put beautiful Andrew Luke on my chest.

We broke generations of tradition on both sides of the family and gave him a middle name that is not a family last name. We just knew that LUKE was perfect because of Jack's favorite Bible verse,  Luke 1:37, "For nothing is impossible with God." I love that this verse is about Mary becoming pregnant with Jesus. It put her in a very difficult position, but she met her circumstances with acceptance and grace.

I'm not saying that as long as we are "with God," He gives us what we want. Frankly,  I know too many people whose yearnings and greatest desires are not met in this lifetime. But I do know that for a family whose very survival was in doubt, this little baby is a beautiful reminder of hope out of despair and beauty from ashes. What would have seemed impossible, even a little C-RAZY to us, is indeed where we are today. And we are so grateful as we honor what was, and live into what IS and is to come.

Monday, April 4, 2016

He's Here!

Andrew Luke Donaldson arrived yesterday, on Opening Day of baseball season.

2:41 pm

6 lb 9 oz, 21 inches long.

Adorable and perfect!

We are in love.

Thank you for all of your prayers and well wishes!

I'll share the birth story sometime very soon after I retire my ice packs and adult diapers.

Speaking of diapers, if you would like to celebrate Andrew with us by making a donation to one of two causes that help moms and babies, please consider a shower gift to

The DC Diaper Bank


World Vision's New Mother and Baby Kit.

More to come!

With Gratitude.

Friday, April 1, 2016

When Your Son Turns 17 in Heaven

Jack's birthday this year was terrible.

He would have been 17.

I don't write this to try to bring you down. If anything, the full-on crappiness of that day reminds me that most days are good, very good, which would have seemed like a ridiculous notion a few years ago. Good days? Without my child? Really?

I would have guessed that even 4 plus years in, each day would be a slog through the muck and mire of sadness and grief. Instead, the grief has wound its way through all aspects of my being like a vine I can't shake off. It shapes me, but does not choke the life out of me. It is now integrated into a life where I no longer want to die young. A life where I have hope for the future, and laughter every single day.

Except, I guess, Jack's birthday.

I was hoping to go to the drugstore and buy small chocolate Crunch bars to give out to the little kids in the neighborhood when they got off the school bus that afternoon-- a birthday tribute to a boy they had never met.

But not too far into the day, I said to myself, "Screw this shit. Screw candy bars. Screw trying to celebrate anything when all I feel is LACK."

The tears started early, and I was grateful for them. I hadn't cried in so long, and I needed the cleansing power of release, of salt water, of feeling all of it. I've only cried once, maybe twice in the almost 9 months of this crazy blessed pregnancy journey, which I would guess isn't that much even for a non-bereaved pregnant lady.

But they didn't stop.

Tim and I drove across town to pick Margaret up early from school, not because it was Jack's birthday, but because they were heading to Florida for Tim's parents' 50th anniversary. Because of my pregnancy, and my desire not to have a preemie out of state, I was staying home. On the short 6 minute drive, in the middle of the day, I managed to see two separate people who sent my longing and anger and loneliness into a downward spiral. You never know when grief triggers will spring up, and after that, I could tell today was going to be a doozy. In my head, I cried out to God, "How much, Oh Lord, how much? How much do you think I can take? I am tired of taking it and being strong!" All that came out of my body was snot and quiet tears.

Tim sat next to me in the car, and I wanted him to touch my knee, or put a hand on my shoulder while I sobbed, but I think my emotion scared him, so he drove on silently. I wanted the one who had lost just as much as I had to reach across the widest 12 inch gap in the world, because I knew he must be hurting, too. He would have been more comfortable organizing something to commemorate Jack's birthday, such as a race or maybe buying the stupid chocolate bars. Anything other than sitting with me in the car, uncomfortable, silent. So I cried some more. When Margaret got in the car and heard the remnants of my snuffles and nose blowing, she asked if I was sick. "No, I just really miss Jack," I said. I. Miss, Jack. Even in a small car with my closest family members, I felt so lonely.

Before long, I'd dropped them at the airport, taken a wrong turn in DC, and seen some of the nascent cherry blossoms. It was predicted that that very day, March 18, would be their peak. But the blooms were lackluster, the wind chilly, and it would be another week before they hit their full beauty.


I spent the rest of the day taking in an outpouring of love from friends and family on the blog, through Facebook, texts, and emails. Hundreds of people lovingly tried to lift the burden, not even aware that I'd be alone all weekend, greatly pregnant, sad, and with two diarrhea-afflicted dogs. It meant so much to me, even as it barely made a dent in the pain.

Barely a dent? Does that mean it's pointless to remember a friend's loss on important days like birthdays, anniversaries, and the like?

Absolutely not.

I can't imagine HOW MUCH WORSE that Friday would have been if no one had acknowledged our loss of Jack. If everyone had stayed away. If you are lonely with messages of love pouring in from around the globe, lonely on a bright spring day with buds bursting in the trees, how much more devastating would it be to have nothing but silence? We need each other.

Our dear friend Brian's 40th birthday is tomorrow. He died in early December. I don't know what this first birthday without him will be like for his wife and three kids, because I am not in their shoes. It is theirs to experience, to navigate. To cry or not. To share stories or not. Regardless of how Brian's family marks the day tomorrow, I'll be here, remembering, bearing witness, saying his name out loud,  reaching out through helplessness and discomfort, hoping that my tiny part can be a pinprick of light through the hazy darkness.

Cherry Blossoms, spring 2011