I have footprints on my heart. Don’t think that because they were left there four years ago they have faded. The impact of those tiny feet on my heart is irrevocable. I will be forever changed by losing a baby at birth. Besides a tiny curl of dark hair, all I physically have of her is a little plaster cast of her feet. Of course it is unspeakably precious to me. I have it nestled in a piece of the same fleecy soft blanket she is buried in. This is much more than many poor women who lose babies through miscarriage get.
Those of you who are close to me or have been following my blog for some time will know that I lost my baby Josephine just before she was born, due to a cord accident. She was my sixth and I was so ready for her to come…the bassinet set up, newborn diapers on the shelf, the house stocked with groceries…I even had her Christmas present already: a wind-up musical swan with her baby on her back.
She was fine at our last checkup, and then, that night in the hospital…no heartbeat. Just silence. Of course it broke my heart. My family and friends, sweet husband and kids helped hold it together.
She would have been four years old this Sunday, September 30th.
Four years and two healthy babies later, I am much more ok than I was at her first anniversary, or even her second, but sometimes things catch me off guard. I was trying to plan her birthday…maybe lots of us could go to the graveyard and bring tons of flowers…and then I thought, four year olds don’t want flowers! They want toys, and cake and balloons…music and mess and the chaos of 20 kids running through the house dressed as fairies and princesses. It hurts that I can’t give her those things, even though she doesn’t need them. Even though she’s up with the stars and her heart is brimming with love, utterly safe, totally loved, in the peaceful presence of God. I still want to do these simple, silly things for her.
So, we do what we can. The kids and I have made it a birthday week. The other day when we ordered groceries from Save-On, we got chocolate cake. We put on candles and sang. We celebrate her because we love her. We are proud she’s part of our family.
We ordered ice-cream, too and had it the next day. Ben and Jerry’s “If I had a Million Flavours.” We made blueberry crisp, too. We will have mini-cereal boxes on her birthday, as we do for the other kids on their birthdays, because they need her to be just another one of them. She’s in Heaven, but she’s still their sister.
On Sunday after Mass and pancakes we will go to the graveyard and bring flowers. We will spend a little time near her praying, and the little ones will likely run about on the grass and read the names of the people who’ve gone before us: young soldiers from the bicycle squad, grandmas and grandpas from the old country, mothers, fathers, babies who never took a breath outside the womb. All the people who await us in Heaven.
Then, because it’s nice to not be alone on this bittersweet day, we will pick up some of our favourite Indian take-out and go to have dinner at a friend’s place. Surrounded by love, just like our daughter Josephine.
Next week we will plant fall flower bulbs to bloom next spring, just like we did last year: Josephine’s flowers. Hiding under the earth and snow, but secretly full of life. Like the promise of eternal life…always making this life more beautiful.
We want her to be remembered. We are proud to be her family. Sharing her story helps us to honour her and to heal, and to know we are not alone.
Do you have footprints on your heart?
Share your story with #IHaveFootprintsOnMyHeart.
I sit here at East is East
almost alone (the baby is sleeping on my lap)
but feeling the opposite of lonely
a perfectly satisfied fulness
an openness to everything:
the heat of the spices in my mouth,
the cool kiss of my iced Turkish Chill,
the spring breeze in the elegant drapes,
the warm orange glow of the lamps.
The vibrant aquamarine wall behind the stage
is filled with memories of musicians
from date nights past…
when that skinny little girl
with her starry-eyed dreams
met that philosopher boy:
tall, brown-bearded, bespectacled.
They met and fell in love
talking their heads off
over so many meals
from all over the world:
Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Mongolian and more…
walking the town
in search of truth, meaning,
They married and filled the restaurants
with tiny people who like spicy Thai food
loud, gorgeous, long-lashed children–
and one gone ahead to the heavenly banquet.
And now instead of that teenaged aching emptiness
–that lonely longing–
there is hustle and bustle,
a thunderstorm of pitter patters
and never a moment alone.
Today that skinny girl
still red-headed and freckled,
but a little more wobbly around the middle,
has escaped for a moment alone with her dreams
in the same café where,
sitting with her bosom buddies
she discovered the presence
of her latest warm bundle–
a blue-eyed moon baby
whose smile bursts her chubby face open
And the girl
now a mom of 8
(how did that happen??)
is learning to dig deeper
underneath the choas
into the quiet space inside
where her spirit resides
and speaks poetry in whispers
(if you’re quiet you can hear…).
The Spirit speaks to her
in dappled sunshine through tender new leaves
and the scent of lilacs.
She buries her face in them
and is transported back to highschool–
to the village where nature spoke to her so clearly
and she filled her notebooks with passionate scribbles,
longings for the fulness she now has
What makes the lights dance in the mountains
when I’m up with the baby at 4:30 am?
Why do they twinkle like orange stars
nestled in the mountainside?
Do my sleepy eyes create an imaginary heatwave
to make them shake and shimmer?
Or is it the night faires dancing–
flitting invisibly back and forth
above the city?
Squeaky doors and squeaky floors
creaking staircases and whining doors
all conspire against a mother
as so many infrared beams
to set off Alarm Baby
as she sneaks off like a thief
trying to surreptitiously steal
the jewel of sleep
Today at our parish we had a guest speaker, Georgie, from the Pacific Postpartum Society. She came to spread awareness about postpartum depression and to give some insights on helping families cope with it. During the presentation, we did an exercise where we compared what “the perfect mother” would do, as opposed to what the real mother would do. “Always be patient and smiling” vs “losing her temper sometimes,” “always making gourmet meals” vs. “ordering pizza or making Kraft dinner sometimes,”keeping the house gorgeous all the time” vs “coping with mess.” You get the idea.
We did this exercise to emphasize the pressures we put on ourselves to be “perfect”– to be “leave it to Beaver moms” who always have a clean apron, a bright smile and freshly baked cookies in our hands. Georgie talked about how our happiness is greatly effected by our expectations, and how far we fall short of them. This is compounded by all the images of seeming perfection we see online, where we only glimpse into people’s lives after they have been edited and airbrushed. Someone joked we need more realistic magazines, like “Mediocre Homes and Gardens.” Recently I saw a funny meme that had a cartoon woman and read “World’s Okayest Mom.”
Why do we keep going after perfection like rats after poison, when we know how miserable it makes us to compare ourselves to others? There are many sayings to help us: “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” “best is good, better is best,” etc. Being gentle with ourselves and humbly accepting where we are at is much more likely to bring peace to our families than striving for unattainable perfection and then beating ourselves up for falling short. As the cleaning guru the Flylady says, “You’re not behind, you’re where you are: now jump in!”
My buddy Monique and I have a “one awesome thing” check-in. We call each other and share the one awesome thing we did that day. It could be anything…that we sent an important email, that we cleaned out the fridge, that we did a cool art or baking project with the kids, that we had tea with a friend who really needed a heart to heart chat, whatever. The point is to focus on the little successes, rather than the long list of “not yet done’s.” As a bonus, the joy of celebrating those little accomplishments is energizing and helps us feel brave enough to try a little more.
Embracing our imperfection allows us to appreciate real life and to accept it, mess and all. And it gives other moms permission to do the same. Rather than wasting time wishing we were like someone else, we can pour our energy into becoming more ourselves, and fulfilling the unique missions we all have. Now that’s beautiful. So next time you wish you were a perfect robot, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” remember that for all his intellect and calm demeanor, what made him really special was when he developed the ability to feel emotions. We feel pain, we are weak, we struggle, we laugh, we love–because we are real. And teaching our kids to deal with their real life emotions and direct them towards love is likely the most important thing we will do as parents.
Taking care of ourselves and learning to love ourselves as we are, while always trying to grow better, bit by bit, will be the first step on this journey. Fellow moms, let’s walk it together!
Rain falls on the gazebo roof
and murmurs gently
in the surrounding forest
I sit here with the stone lion
who gazes with undivided attention
into the nearby woods
as if expecting Aslan
I admire his silence
and try to cultivate interior quiet
attuning my ears to the soft sounds
of bird calls and frog chatter
sounds of my youth
unchanged and immortal
The baby sleeps warmly on my chest
snuggled beneath the nursing cover
I sigh and he echoes me
heart to heart
imitating me even in his sleep
A tiny spider throws his rope onto my iPad
and hangs out with me while I write
Today even a spider
I was just beginning to write this silly little poem earlier when the baby flung back his arm while nursing and hit “post” long before it was ready. Eek! Sorry for those who received this strange snippet in their inbox! Now that the kids have stopped parachuting off their bunkbeds or other similar gymnastic feats, I’ve been able to finish it. Voilá!
The amorous little gentleman
approached with an unabashed smile of delight
and pulling my hair towards him
took a generous chomp of my chin.
He is not at all shy
but perfectly clear
that it’s his utter to delight to bite me
—smooch here and here and here—
If he weren’t so sweet,
like a down covered peach,
perhaps I would try to struggle
but darling he is,
I simply give in
and chubby arms round my neck
give him a snuggle.
On Father’s Day we had a funny little thing happen. James and I were on the bus with the kids going to meet my dad for lunch. As people usually do, they commented on the number of our kids with surprise. I like to joke that as a homeschool mom I do my best to promote basic numeracy skills in the community. Like counting up to six. People frequently do that. They use their finger and point “1…2…3…4…5…6! Are they all yours?” “Yup.” Then they might shake their heads in disbelief or give a thumbs up. “That’s awesome! You don’t see big families that much anymore…”
But this time was a little different. A slightly bedraggled older man got on the bus and sat next to an Asian grandma who began to point and count in Chinese. “They all yours?” he asked. “Yes,” I smiled. “Seven, eh?” “Yes…” I replied somewhat mystified…because it’s true. I have six here and one in Heaven. Josephine would be about 20 months if she were alive. “Five girls and two boys?” he asked. “Yes!” I replied, even more surprised, because he even got that part right. I looked around but there were no other kids on the bus besides us.
And if that wasn’t strange enough, when we are walking back home a lady with two kids, a baby on her back and a toddler having a tantrum on the ground, looked at us and counted. “Wow, all yours?” Then she said to her little boy, “Look at that, seven kids and not one of them having a fit!”
Funny, right? It was as if little Josephine wanted to wave hi to Daddy on Father’s Day, to reassure him that she’s right here with us, and that he’s her daddy still. How did those people see her? I don’t know. Maybe their angels showed them. Or maybe they’re terrible at counting. But however it happened, one thing is certain: every baby counts, no matter how short their life, and they are always, always, always a part of their families.