I used to have a lot of family pictures hung up all over our living room, then I took a lot of them down, under the guise of, “Oh, I’m going to paint in here soon,” and “I want to buy new frames and put different pictures up.” But that never happened.
I have a digital picture frame that’s 99% Garrett pictures – none of Caitlin or John Caleb, and just a couple of Christopher. About six months ago I unplugged it because I was trying to sleep in the living room with a sick toddler and the light was keeping me awake. But I never plugged it back in. I kept telling myself that I “forgot” or was feeling “lazy.”
Then a couple of weeks ago, I cleaned up my desk in the kitchen and moved the digital picture frame in there. Now that it’s plugged in, I see pictures of Garrett – very nearly every pictures I ever took of him! – every day all day long. And now I realize what I didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else. It hurts to have pictures of him around. It hurts to see him smile, to remember how sweet he was, to see him playing with his older brother, and to compare what he looked like as an infant to what his little brother looks like now. It physically hurts. I don’t want to forget him, I don’t want to let his memory go, but I also don’t want to hurt like this.
Tomorrow is the fifteenth of April, two years and five months from the day we lost Garrett. He was two years, four months, and 28 days old when he died. So now we have reached the point that I’ve dreaded ever since saying good-bye to my baby: he’s been gone from us longer than he was with us. He’s been in heaven longer than he was on earth. And that breaks my heart.
Every day as I make memories with Caitlin and JC, someone is missing. When I’m caught up in the daily activities and moving forward with life – as I know I should! – it doesn’t hurt so much. I can almost forget. But then I see his face again and I remember and I hurt. I hurt so badly. And I hate that hurt.
I hate it that Caitlin has no idea who Garrett is.
I hate it that someday I will have to explain why he isn’t with us.
I hate that every happy memory I have of my child is colored with sadness because he’s gone.
I hate the awkwardness of explaining to people who don’t know me that I’ve had three babies but I’m only just now learning what it’s like to juggle the needs of two kids. (And yes, I understand that I do not have to explain this to people, but trust me, at times it can’t be avoided and I don’t like to flat out lie to people or tell them it’s none of their business because most people don’t mean to be nosy or hurtful.)
I hate regretting every choice that brought us to the time and place where Garrett was stolen from us.
I just hate it all.
But what I hate most is that we had that sweet, smiley boy for such a short time. The longer he’s gone, the more acutely I feel the loss of him and all that should have been.
As I mentioned recently, I’ve been feeling super creative and inspired over the past couple of weeks. Which is kind of awesome. But what’s even MORE awesome is the fact that I’ve also felt free to DO something with that creativity and inspiration, which means that I might just be recovering from my acute, chronic case of “imposter syndrome.”
I’d never had a word or words to describe the paradoxical feeling of “sure, I’m talented and I’ve done some stuff, but in reality I totally suck” that I’ve had about myself as an artist ever since college… and then I read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon and learned the term “imposter syndrome.” Clearly, the fact that Kleon’s book was a crazy successful bestseller is indication that I’m not the only creative person that suffers from this ailment, but I really kinda sorta thought that I was. Isn’t that funny? Don’t we all think we’re super special snowflakes, if not in our brilliance, then in our failure?
But somehow – and I’m not sure exactly how, I’m seriously still trying to work that out – I’ve turned off the “I suck” talk and have actually been making and doing things that I want to make and do.
Which is GREAT.
~ ~ ~ ~
(This story is totally related but doesn’t seem like it at first.)
I work in an office with a lot of very educated people, and the work we do is (mainly) focused on the Department of Defense. So the reading material that’s lying around is a lot of magazines about IT and engineering. I’m not an engineer and the older I get the more confused I am by computers, but I like to flip through these magazines so I at least get an idea of what’s happening in our industry and the sort of work we do.
One of my colleagues in an MIT alumnus and I assume that’s how we ended up with a recent issue of MIT Technology Review. When I first saw the cover I got a little *ahem* judge-y and joked to the other designer in my office that MIT must’ve let their graphics intern go a little crazy that month because ew.
But then I googled the illustrator and found out that oh hey he’s kind of brilliant and successful. Whoops! This just goes to show that yes, although there are objective “rules” for design, the enjoyment of design as art is still very subjective. Or perhaps it goes to show that I just don’t know what makes good design nowadays. (Second option is much more likely.)
Anyway, I became kind of fascinated with this designer, Elliott Earls. I will be totally honest with you: I think this guy’s work is weird. But I like it because what he’s doing is so authentic, so uniquely his own voice, that it inspires me to speak with my own unique voice even if (even WHEN) someone else thinks my stuff sucks.
While I was plugging away on PowerPoint presentation on Wednesday I listened to an interview that Earls did on Designing Minds. Something he said blew me away, so I replayed that particular section of the YouTube clip over a dozen times or more to get the quote almost perfect. I even wrote it down, but I left it pinned up in the cubicle at my office so you’re going to have to be happy with a paraphrase (or go watch the interview yourself).
He said something very close to this:
My whole life was attempting to live this idea I had of the perfect graphic designer, something that just didn’t come naturally to me. But once I let go of that and started doing work that I really enjoyed and felt passionate about, it’s like my career just took off.
And seriously my jaw just dropped because wow, could I relate to that. To the idea that an artist looks and acts a certain way and that I’m not a “real” artist because I don’t look and act like that. And thinking of my work as crap because it’s not as slick and innovative as so-and-so’s. Well, newsflash, Emily – you’re not so-and-so, you’re Emily, so your work isn’t ever going to look like so-and-so’s. It’s not supposed to.
I’m sure we’ve all seen that inspirational quote on Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest that says something to the effect of “Be yourself because you’re going to suck if you try to be anyone else.” Every time I see it I’m like, “Yeah yeah yeah, kum-ba-ya, self esteem booster shot in an ugly font, NO ONE CARES.”
But now I get it.
(At least, I THINK I get it.)
I’m an artist as long as I create art. Art that comes from my interests and thoughts and experiences, that I enjoy making and feel proud of. When I let go of impressing anyone in general or someone in particular, I’m free to make something genuine and beautiful. It’s a struggle every time I sit down with a pen or pencil in my hand to silence that inner editor, that Resistance, but I’ve been remarkably successful over the past few weeks, and that feels really, REALLY good.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to blog more about this at great length later, but right now all I’ve got time for is a drive-by post. I’m feeling so inspired and creative right now. Part of the reason is that I finally got around to reading Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, which was (of course), AWESOME. The rest of the reason is that I’ve been working my butt off to clear my house of clutter, and I think I’ve managed to shake loose a lot of mental clutter, too. So I’m arting and crafting a lot lately, and I came up with a new personal motto/mantra, a daily “to do” list that I want to share with you.
At the end of the day, I’ll consider myself successful if I have 1. learned something and 2. created something. So I made a simple graphic to hang in my workspace and remind me of that:
If you click on the picture, it’ll take you to a full-size copy of the graphic in PDF form. Right-click on it and save it to your computer so you can print it out and post it to remind YOU to learn something a create something every day.
A quick caveat: when I posted this image on Facebook, my mom was like, “And hugged your babies! You have to hug on your babies!” Well, yes. There are other things I do every day that just have to be done, like eat and sleep and breathe and pee, and yes, love my family. Those things are built into my routine. Creating and learning, unfortunately, AREN’T. I have to remind myself to pursue inspiration and do something with it, or else I get to the end of the week/month/year and I realize I haven’t done much more with my time than watch television and shovel junk food into my face. And I want to do more than that. Much, much more. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, which is why I’m sharing it.
This weekend we celebrated Caitlin’s birthday. She’s two years old.
And three months ago we welcomed John Caleb, our perfectly plump “little” guy.
There have been moments, over and over again in the past few months, where I’ve been amazed by how happy I am. Just kind of blown away by how very much my life finally looks the way I’ve hoped and dreamed it would.
Following Caitlin into her room while cradling her baby brother against my shoulder.
Driving the two of them to my mother-in-law’s house for the first time after I went back to work.
Getting them both into bed and then sitting down with a glass of wine to watch a movie with my husband.
Leaving work after a productive day and knowing that I get to see my babies soon.
Enjoying a lazy Sunday all four of us together.
All the simple little moments that make life good, you know? Those moments are just – they’re just awesome.
Awesome. Except —
Except that this was supposed to be my life two years ago. I was supposed to have Garrett and Caitlin. I was supposed to be mom-to-a-toddler-and-newborn already. Instead, I was mom to an only child, and then a grieving mom, and then mom to an only child again. Ever since November 2012, my house has felt cold and empty – even after Caitlin arrived, even as we began to heal.
I didn’t quite realize it until I was about two-thirds of the way through my pregnancy with John Caleb, but part of me believed that I’d never have two children at home. Never be mom to more than one. I was terrified, in a secret part of myself, that something would happen to Caitlin while I carried her baby brother, or that he’d end up miscarried or stillborn. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, tentatively happy, but always looking over my shoulder and startling whenever I thought I saw the specter of death in my peripheral vision.
And now here I am, and we all got through that okay, and I’m just thrilled with my life, and part of me is starting to look around suspiciously, thinking, “any minute now…”
Because right before we lost Garrett, I was happy. Oh my God, I was HAPPY. My husband and I had gone through a rough time when Garrett was just under a year old, and it had taken quite some time for us to work through, but we did it. We got through it and I was so proud of us. I was so glad we hadn’t given up. I felt so unimaginably blessed. Garrett was an absolute joy, and we had so much fun as a family.
And then I got pregnant and we were all so excited about our family growing. Even Garrett was asking to look at baby pictures all the time, and when I showed him the ultrasound of his baby sister, he held it close to his face and absolutely marveled at it. I know that sounds crazy, but he did! “Baby seeeeestur,” he whispered as he looked at the photo (the black-and-white 2D kind, the kind no one but an ultrasound tech can decipher).
And then we lost him. Or rather, he was stolen from us. And do you know what that kind of loss does to you? Losing someone violently? At the hands of a person you trusted? It’s more than disillusioning. It’s devastating. It is the very best way to define the term – and I apologize for the strong language – “mindfuck.” I mean, I’ve seen plenty of true crime specials and I’ve read Silence of the Lambs. I know there are some sick puppies out there. But when you find out one of them was living next door to you and took your child by the hand, that takes your motherly paranoia right through the roof. And it makes you think that nothing truly beautiful can exist for very long before the cruelty of this world snuffs it out.
I used to look at Garrett and my heart would ache – I would feel physical pain – at the thought of him being made fun of someday on the playground, or picked last in gym class at school. I never, ever thought that he would face something so much scarier.
I never thought that my hope and faith would be obliterated. And I NEVER thought that somehow, in the months and years that followed, that I’d find it again. That I’d be happy. Not just fake-it-til-you-make-it-happy, but really-for-real HAPPY.
But here I am.
I’ve talked about it before – how I do not understand how these things can coexist, gratitude in the midst of unfathomable loss. The way that grief cycles through my heart is painfully unpredictable. I often feel guilty, and cold, and angry, and disgusted, and hopeless. I wonder what is wrong with me. I wonder what is wrong with everyone else. I wonder how I will manage to get through another year, or ten or fifty.
I think, sometimes, that it would be nice just to lie down and give up.
And I think, other times, that there’s not enough time left on this planet to contain everything that I hope to do and see.
I feel all these things.
Everything is true and false and awful and terrible and glorious.
A few days ago I realized that I am happy, and I am scared of that happiness. I’m scared of losing big again. My paranoia has recently seized on the certainty that I will soon die of cancer. (Spoiler alert: I don’t have cancer and I have no signs of symptoms to indicate that I have cancer… But for some reason I imagine myself quite vividly overtaken by tumors.) Or that my husband will go to work on a snowy day and lose control of his truck and die in a ditch filled with ice water. John Caleb didn’t leave our house for his first two months except to go to scheduled doctor’s appointments because I had visions in my head of him getting pertussis and dying before he was due for his first round of shots.
In other words, I’m scared. Something bad might happen. In fact, it’s very likely that something bad WILL happen, given the fact that this world kind of sucks sometimes. (Although it’s quite unlikely that any given worst-case-scenario playing my head head at any moment is THE bad thing that’s going to happen.) But I came to the realization that… if something bad happens… we’ll get through it.
I mean, we can’t avoid tragedy. I’d like to think that losing big once means I’ve paid my dues, but it doesn’t, necessarily. It DOES mean we’ve learned to live again after losing it all.
And that made me feel a little bit better. (Though I’m definitely still crazy and paranoid.) There is something very freeing about accepting that bad things will happen, and we’ll never understand why, but we will, somehow, find a way to survive.
And we will, someday, find a way to smile.
One year ago today, a friend of mine gave birth to her baby boy by emergency C-section. He was born alive but passed away because all of her amniotic fluid was completely gone and all that was in the womb with him was meconium.
Anytime a mom loses her child, it’s sad.
It’s sad whether it’s a car accident or cancer that takes that child, whether he is five years old when he goes or fifty. A mom, regardless of how long she’s had with her child, will still miss him, will still wish she had more time.
But I think there’s something particularly sad about losing a baby, about being cheated out of even a few days or months or years to get to know your child. And there is most definitely something particularly awful about losing a child who did not have to die, whose life was ended before it even began because someone who was trusted to care for that child was careless and negligent.
This is what happened to my friend, Danielle. She was hoping for an all-natural birth at home, so she chose a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) named Christy Collins. Christy seemed like a friendly, knowledgable caregiver, but as Danielle’s pregnancy progressed, she was frustrated by Christy’s responses (or lack thereof) to her questions. She felt ignored and brushed aside. Still, because she had heard great things about home birth, and because she trusted Christy, she continued going to see her.
Danielle’s due date came and went, and at 42 weeks (two weeks overdue – a point at which most doctors would absolutely insist that a pregnant mom be induced or delivered by C-section) she had a few tests to see how the baby was doing. He seemed to be fine, but there was no amniotic fluid.
This is where is gets ugly.
Christy asked Jan Tritten of Midwifery Today what she should do in this situation, and Jan in turn asked the followers on Midwifery Today’s Facebook page. (Link is to a PDF of screenshots from the conversation. It was later deleted.)
There were a few people who said, “This is very bad. This woman needs to go to the hospital.”
But many did not say that. Many said, “Oh, she’ll be fine.”
And so Christy sent Danielle and her husband home with a Doppler (a device used to listen to a baby’s heartbeat through the mom’s stomach) so they could monitor the baby. She assured them that the all would be well.
The next day, it became clear to Danielle and her husband that their baby was in distress. They rushed to the hospital, where their son Gavin Michael was born and died. What should have been the happiest day of their lives so far – the birth of their first child! – became the worst day of their lives.
And the saddest thing, the most infuriating thing, is that it did not have to happen.
Though none of us can go back in time and see what “might have been,” it is very likely that if Danielle had been induced a few days or a week earlier, her son would be here to celebrate his first birthday, take his first steps, eat cake and ice cream, make friends, and light up his parents’ life.
But he’s not.
He’s not here because someone who claimed to be a birth “professional” asked strangers on the internet for medical advice instead of admitting that she didn’t know what to do and referring Danielle to a doctor.
And after this happened, Christy Collins denied being Danielle’s midwife, and Jan Tritten/Midwifery today deleted all evidence of their involvement in Gavin’s preventable death.
I’m sharing this story today because I want Danielle to know that her son is not forgotten. That people remember him and love him and won’t let his memory – and what it means – be buried. Gavin Michael’s story should be told, so that people know that home birth midwives in America are not regulated, many are completely clueless about how to handle common birth complications, and many are encouraging parents to make dangerous decisions about their children’s care. And as a result, children are dying.
If you are considering home birth, please think twice. Actually, think long and hard about it. The person you are trusting with your life and your child’s may not be as qualified as you think. They may let you down when you are at your most vulnerable, and as a result, you may end up saying hello and good-bye to your child in the same breath.
Gavin’s story, told by his parents Danielle and Michael:
This blog post has more on Jan Tritten’s involvement in Gavin’s death.
More information on what makes home birth in the USA so dangerous, and how the home birth movement ignores and covers up the preventable deaths of children like Gavin:
Please share Gavin’s story.
Please don’t let him be buried twice.
In Light of Gavin Michael
This time last year, I could only think about this time the year before. As November 14, 15, and 16 approached (the day that Garrett was injured, the day he was declared brain dead, and the day that we said good-bye to him before he was taken into organ donation surgery) all I could think about was what I had been doing at that moment a year before. The days leading up to Garrett’s death, I thought bitterly about how I had no idea how things were about to change. The danger he was in. The pain he was suffering. The way he’d be stolen from us. I replayed my regret over and over again.
I still hate the fact that there is no saving my baby. I’m still angry at myself and the woman who murdered Garrett. And sometimes I’m angry at God. Amazingly, though, this weekend snuck up on me a bit because I’ve been very busy living my life – being a wife and a mom and a person with normal life-type-things going on, like buying Christmas presents and stressing about work projects and playing games on my phone in bed when I should be asleep already.
On the one hand, I feel like I should feel guilty for not spending weeks obsessing about today.
On the other hand, I am very grateful. I am breathing a sigh of relief.
Because those three terrible days in November of 2012, I honestly wondered how I was going to live, and I am grateful to find myself alive now, two years later. Alive and happy, surviving and thriving.
In the months following Garrett’s death, I had no idea how I was going to go on. I just knew that I had to. We had to – my husband and I and our family, everyone who said good-bye to someone incredibly special when Garrett went to heaven. I believed that we’d find a way forward.
And somehow, we did.
It helps, this year, that I’m preparing for the birth of Garrett’s baby brother, who is due in less than three weeks. I have something very specific to look forward to, and something very specific to occupy my time. (You know, like complain about how fat I am while I am eating ice cream. Or complain about how tired I am after getting up from a nap. Or cry because I’m offended for no reason or go back to Target again for the 36th essential item that I just remembered I must have before going into labor.)
But aside from being busy or distracted, I feel that a lot of healing has happened in the past year, because I am able to recall Garrett’s last days and not be swallowed with regret. Instead I marvel that we all, some way, some how, lived through it. I had no idea how we possibly could survive such dark days, but I believed we could, and we did.
A lot of people, every day, have to face the thing they fear the most, or something they never imagined could happen to their family. A few of my friends have entered those dark days recently, and my heart breaks for them. But my heart also has hope for them, that they will find that joy lives on the other side. I have no idea how, I cannot draw them a map, because I’m not 100 percent sure how I found my way through.
All I know – all I can say – is that someday you will wake up and will have a thought about something besides your loss. You’ll think a dozen things, in fact, and maybe even laugh a bit and feel pretty good about life, before you remember the hole in your heart. If you are tempted to feel guilty for that, don’t spend a second giving into that guilt.
Instead, be glad. Be healed, a little, and expect more. You’re still wounded, you’re still grieving, but you are doing grief right by finding your way, slowly, through the darkness back to joy.
I miss you every day, sweet boy. We all do. Thanks for being so awesome.
Thanks for living in our hearts forever.
Today is Garrett’s 4th birthday.
In the past few weeks, I’ve dreaded this day. I’ve wondered if I should take it off from work so I could be alone. If I should plan something special, like dinner and a cake and ice cream, or if I should just pretend it’s any other day. I wondered if I should post anything on Facebook, or here on the blog, and if so, what should I say? What can I say? There’s really not much to say on a day like today, a day when a little kid should be opening presents and eating cake but he’s not.
The worst thing about today, for me, is not (just) that it’s Garrett’s birthday and that he’s not here. It’s that enough time has passed that the kid that I miss is no longer the kid that is missing.
When Garrett died, he was two years, four months, and 28 days old. I always round it up to two and a half, but he wasn’t even quite there yet. I suppose child development experts would call his age/stage “preschooler,” but to me he was still very much my baby. He still occasionally woke up in the middle of the night and needed his mommy. He still took a pacifier at nap time and bed time. He was still in diapers. Yes, he was walking and talking and turning into the coolest little kid, and every single day was so much fun for me and his dad because he was having so much fun learning and growing up, but… he was still so little.
So that’s who I miss – that little guy. I’ll tell you a secret: when Caitlin was very small, I wanted to hurry her right through the newborn and infant stage toward toddler, because I missed Garrett so much. I missed his size and shape. And now Caitlin weighs about the same as Garrett did when he died (because he was a skinny little guy!) and she’s starting to get that “little kid” look to her. She is her own person, and I appreciate her as Caitlin, not as “Garrett’s replacement” – believe me, no one could replace him, and I have never expected her to! But it’s tremendously comforting to me, in a way, to have a toddler again.
But I know that if Garrett was here, he wouldn’t be a toddler any more. He’d be a big kid. He’d seem even bigger compared to his sister. I look at my nephew, who turned four in April, and my neighbor’s little boy, whose birthday was back in October, and I wonder what sorts of things that they do would Garrett be doing right now? Would he be riding a bike? Learning to swim? Saying his ABCs? Singing songs he heard on the radio? Collecting fireflies on summer nights? Telling me jokes? Playing pranks?
Would he ask for a special kind of cake for his birthday? Would he like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… or Batman… or Thomas the Train… or some other cartoon I’ve never even heard of? What kinds of things would he want to talk about when his Nana or Auntie called on FaceTime? What presents would he ask for? What size clothes would he be wearing?
These are things I’ll never know.
So that’s what hurts, right now, today… that I have no idea what I’m missing. I have no idea who my boy would be at four years old. I only know who he was at (not quite) two and a half.
Eating leftover birthday cake, July 2012.
Last year on this day, I told the very dramatic, very funny, and only slightly embarrassing story of Garrett’s birth. I highly recommend reading it as a chaser to this downer of a post.