Name Your Grief: Miscarriage and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

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My Theology 101 professor, Dr. John Boyle has a lecture that can be summarized by this, “when you name something you have power over it.” The power in a name, “it has the power to stop someone dead in their tracks across the quad.” Names matter and they have power.

One of the greatest lessons I learned is the importance of naming my grief. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Ronald Reagan designated it so in 1988. October 15 was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

There are three common types of grief involved in pregnancy and infant loss. These represent a common experience. Individual experiences will naturally differ.

First

The first is the loss of the dream or expectations. With a positive pregnancy test comes a vision of the future. A girl or a boy? Nursery decor may be picked out. Names were chosen. Plans made. This loss varies depending on how hoped for the pregnancy was.

Second

The second is the loss of the particular child. It is this child whom the parents grieve, the child who can never be replaced because any other child is not this child. They may never have had the opportunity to see him or her, but the deep awareness between mother and child builds the connection. Here, she feels her arms or belly empty where it once felt full.

Third

The third is the loss of security and fear for the future. What does this mean in relation to the woman’s ability to bear children, to bear healthy children? Could she have done anything differently? Will there be children in the future? Is this her lot in life? Scientific knowledge does not always assuage these fears.

For each other these, the power of the name can come and facilitate healing.

First

Identifying and naming what the dreams were, no matter how small or petty or cliche they might seem. I wanted to dress a little girl. I wanted my name carried forward with a boy. Giving voice to these hopes can help us identify those that might still be possible, or to find other ways to fulfill our dreams. No matter how unimportant they seem in the face of the other types of loss, they matter and should be named.

Second

To give the child a name. Even when the situation is complicated, grief can be felt and to be able to identify the child you lost by name can help carve a place for that child in your memory and the memory of your family. It need not be announced publicly, but there is value in having to a name you can call this child when you allow yourself to say, “I wish you were here.”

Third

Name the fear. I’m afraid I’ll never have children. I’m afraid I can’t carry a child. I’m afraid I’ll never be a mother or a father. Sometimes there are medical answers, in the case of late-term pregnancy or infant loss. There may be progesterone shots or folic acid supplements that will help in the future. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes, the answers are worse than we imagined. But we cannot learn to work out the problem, help prevent the problem, or accept the reality of things as they are if we do not first name those fears. “Let’s put away the ‘shoulds,’” my counselor said to me, “maybe the fact that this is on your mind tells you this is something you need to think about.”

If you are not the one who experienced the loss but want to reach out, I encourage you to be aware of these different types of loss involved in the grief. Phrases like, “you’re young, you’ll have more in the future,” might speak to the third type but insults the second.

The power of a name. For those on the outside of the experience, using the name reminds the person in grief you have not forgotten. It helps us to know, to contain in some small way the idea of the thing in our mind, and in this case, help us take a step in the path to healing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Can we still find refuge in the Catholic Church?

 

The image is a pelican, a mother whose children will starve, so with her beak, she opens her breast and allows them to drink from her blood, that they may survive.

 

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In the selflessness of a mother, Christ’s heart is pierced on the cross and, pouring his blood out for us, he saves our lives.

 

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This sacrifice continues in the mass. “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…Do this in memory of memory…” We must not ignore those words.

 

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Since July, I have felt at odds with the men on the altar. I heard nothing. From across the country, priests were speaking out. Women in Facebook groups shared how their priests preached on the crisis. Hours of reparation were scheduled. But not here. One parish here, but not where I attend.

We are split between two parishes. One did not even include the statements from the bishop in their bulletin. No mention. No words. Happy-go-lucky music. Was it even happening? Is it business as usual while the faithful who are up on Church news feel broken, alone, lost, abandoned by their shepherds to the thieves who disguise themselves as shepherds?

I heard a priest could choose to dress in black on such an occasion as this. Sackcloth and ashes.

Fed up, I contacted a priest who I knew had preached on the crisis. And by preaching, I don’t mean a passing comment for a few words connecting what he is preaching on to the news and back to the topic at hand.

 

No, I mean it was the focus.

 

They have no excuse because the readings have been all about the failure of the shepherds who choose to shepherd themselves. Even now, Augustine’s sermons on pastors fill the Office of Readings.

We left town for the day to the hills of Sonora, to mass at St. Patrick’s were a pipe organ fills the back wall, a few miles from Indgeny reserve, our destination for the afternoon. There were saw Fr. Sam. He looked deeply into the eyes of those he passed by. He bends down a little to do so. As his gaze grazes the congregation, he stops from time to time. He sees them.

And he preaches to them, to us.

In the reading, he said Christ exposes a great error we fall into, to think we can adapt God’s will to our will. He points out Peter being rebuked publicly by Christ, “get behind me Satan.” It wasn’t private, it wasn’t soft, it was public, it was telling. He pointed out that Peter went onto become Pope. The pope is infallible on the teachings of morals and doctrine, but he can still make mistakes, still make grave errors. We have seen it in history, we are seeing it now.

It doesn’t mean the Church has failed.

The exposure to the light is good. We need that.

He said all that…and more.

 

I felt seen. I felt heard. For over two months I’ve put my heart into the effort to feel it is not us (the laypeople) against them (the establishment of men either committing crimes or men afraid to rock the boat by speaking the truth, by preaching God’s word). I have felt desperate to hear this word, desperate to hear from the representatives of Christ, in person.

Last week reeling, this week refuge.

Forging new paths

Three months and one week since we last walked through the sliding glass doors of sterilized air and woodless surroundings at UCSF.

Three months.

That seems to be all it takes.

In a moment, one day, earlier this week, I felt space in my lungs, I felt relaxed, I felt free. Peter was tired, keeping his eyes closed and I said, “he’s probably okay.” He never felt especially warm. I never took his temperature.

One week before the three-month moment, all the same circumstances, I checked his temperature three times that day to “monitor him.” Before three months, I am half mother/half nurse, weighing him weekly, eyeing him suspiciously. After three months: “he is probably okay.”

Tomorrow it will be one year and three months since I held my Celeste, since I last felt her move. I no longer feel entangled by grief. I no longer feel bound by a sadness bigger than I can understand.

Yet, all this change, all this relief, all this rest makes me feel a little lost. I leaned into home.

We finished our hall bathroom remodel.

 

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A room I once avoided because it was dingy and gross now feels fresh (hello new toilet) and attracts my eyes to glide over the textures of linen-like tile, matte ceramic and high gloss drawers.

I headed to the kitchen making whole grain blueberry muffins and homemade granola bars.

 

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I sank into education orchestrating my daughter’s end-of-the-year review. Even though there is still talk about my husband being the primary teacher, I grow more skeptical each day that this is really the arrangement.

I dug into reading for hours each night when the kids are in bed, immersing myself in Le Morte d’Arthur retold by modern master T. H. White. I reset my evenings after long and sometimes lonely days with the kids.

But still, I am searching. Still, I am not entirely sure where I am or where I belong. Still, I cannot see the path below me clearly. Not knowing what else I am moving towards, I focus on the moment.

The moment lives as this short space around me. What happens beyond the moment? At one time I was surviving the hospitalization, at another I was preparing for her birth and death, preparing for a baby, surviving the newborn days, surviving the grief.

It is a new phase. I’m exploring (sometimes with my eyes closed) the space around me, stretching out my arms, feeling my way. My children grow older. My babe-in-arms says, “No, mommy!” if I cuddle or kiss him too much, then skips off to be like the big kids. I could have a career but I know in my mind I am called to attend to my first vocation as wife and mother. As much as I’d like “writer” to be my first vocation, it isn’t.

I cannot think of clever posts to write every day. I cannot imagine how to engage a tribe. I cannot do what it takes to get the numbers to please the publishers to print that book.

And I have to be okay with that.

So what then?

There isn’t an answer to that question and the search is not particularly depressing. It is just life. Aren’t we all walking around wondering what is the next right thing, the next right step?

I know it starts in the home; I know it starts in community.

What I don’t know is if writing about it is particularly interesting to others because I cannot install Google Analytics on a WordPress.com site without paying more money each month than I want to commit to.

You’ll have to tell me…if you want to.

But if you don’t want to, that’s okay too.

In this space, I’ll be working on another reflection booklet or a mini-liturgy for the home for those souls aching to reach into Heaven barefoot and during the baby’s naptime. I hope you’ll keep walking with me. We are all trying to find our way, whether out of grief or into life. Nobody has it perfect, nobody has it down, and that’s okay.

How to celebrate motherhood for what’s worth

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Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

 

I want to celebrate motherhood for what it is. I want to be aware of the trials and the heartache and that not everyone is a mother (some are men). Some women chose not to become mothers and maybe they are satisfied or maybe they are lonely or feel regret once the time to change their minds has passed.

Some women are mothers but do not know it because of an abortifacient in their contraception, or some women chose to abort their children, “terminate their pregnancy,” or some women had to choose to leave their 8-year-old boys to fend for themselves as they all starved and moved through the mass of bodies as refugees. Some women still grieve their miscarriages, some refuse to acknowledge their miscarriages. Some women are mothers by surrogacy, either her own child that another woman carried or carrying a child who genetically and contractually not her own.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Some women are mothers because they loved and devoted themselves to a child whose biological mother and father betrayed them by drug use, abuse, neglect or abandonment.

I want to celebrate motherhood for its wildness, its recklessness, its boundless love. I don’t want to grieve, though I probably will because it wasn’t Sunday when I wrote this. I’ll probably start out fine then get all bent out of shape because I am ignoring that inner force that pulls me to the cemetery on every important day.

 

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In my first year of marriage, I wanted to stand up in mass indicating that I am a mother. I wanted that recognition. I got that recognition.

Not every woman does.

But lots of women do.

 

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Photo by Julia Janeta on Unsplash

 

Let’s celebrate that gift of self, no matter the outcome, whether you held your child or not, whether you held your child only after she passed, whether you held your child the night before her wedding, whether you held your child as she grieved the death of her child.

We aren’t just celebrating how great motherhood is, we’re celebrating how great mothers are for all they do, for all they sacrifice. We’re publically recognizing you because you are a mother, whether or not the world knows it, values it or rewards you for it.

Because for those who were blessed to change a million diapers, we know recognition is not inherently part of motherhood. Sacrifice is.

God bless you, mothers.

 

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Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

 

Thank you, mothers.

Life after death: a garden path out of loss and trauma

Our lavender crop was booming. Like the growth of the year, much of this lay dormant last year, hardly producing a single bunch. There were blooms, but the harvest was quiet, individual and hung in my closet to be later put on my nightstand.

This year, the kids gathered around as I cut handful upon handful from one bush. They watched as I carried it to the picnic table and after some moments of quiet work, I invited them to join. Together we cleaned the stems and Miriam stripped the buds from the too-short-to-bundle stems for shortbread cookies and lavender lemonade.

Mother and daughter separating lavender buds from stalks

It was fragrant, beautiful and messy.

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Much like this year.

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Like my garden, I am finding my way.

1

I joined a launch team to promote a book called Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker.

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2

I attended and reported on Sienna’s Walk, part of the 1 in 4 Stillborn Still Loved awareness campaign. It was an honor to hear the stories of women there, and a blessing to experience the sense that I am not alone in our experience, that the mess of complicated emotions, joy with sorrow, are felt by others, too.

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3

I published my first ebook, a book of reflections on the holy rosary for women who grieve. This project remains close to my heart and every time I get a notification that another person has signed up to receive it, I feel a spark of light in my heart. I pray my writing is a gift for you and communicates to you that you are not alone. Whatever life’s trials, there is a way forward.

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, click the link here to have it delivered for free to your inbox.

4

A piece I wrote was published on Blessed is She, “a community full of women just like you that seek support in their relationship with the Lord and want to connect together with Scripture.” The piece, titled “Believing in Beauty” shares how the contemplation of beauty kept me grounded and maintained my vision throughout the darkest times of grief.

5

Over the weekend, I led a committee for the Young Ladies Institute (YLI) who hosted a Mother’s Day Tea. The tickets cost $1 to ensure that anyone who wanted to come, could afford it. Members volunteered to create centerpieces for an eclectic and beautifully diverse setting. With the increasing numbers as the day passed, I grabbed the chance to decorate three tables.

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During the afternoon, I gave a short exhortation on the call of motherhood. It was my first time public speaking in years, and the first time I acknowledged for a group of people, “I have four children on earth and three in Heaven.”

It was not meant to draw sighs or sadness, but to let those mothers present know that when I talk about the trials of motherhood, and a mother cries for a moment in her heart at what she has endured, that I see her.

I do not know her, but I see her.

I will not speak about motherhood blindly. All that love comes with the cross.

The shape of this year is more than I could have expected and not at all a standardized answer to the question, “what will life look like?” But like the garden, as I carried Celeste under my heart with her heart beating, her body, growing and alive, I prepared, I cried, I built safety structures around me to bolster my heart when she left.

I leaned into grief.

And with all that planting, when she died and we laid her to rest, after the dormant period,

things began to grow.

Review of Adriel Booker’s Grace Like Scarlett

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss helps women lean into grief

I am ever on the hunt to find new resources to share with you. You have read about the stages of grief and coping skills for anxiety, fear and building blocks for the good life. Today, I share with you a book I encountered that may be useful in your life or in the life of someone you know: Grace Like Scarlett.

Photograph of book cover for Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker

It is about miscarriage.

We do not usually talk openly about miscarriage in society. It seems like a private thing, a woman’s thing, a family issue. That privacy that surrounds this tragedy often exasperates the grief those who have experienced miscarriage feel. They do not know where to turn. They do not know how to mourn.

My miscarriages took place long ago, in a far-a-way life before the present concerns of my world existed.

But I remember miscarriage when was felt all the way to my bones. It opened up a world of fear, what if I cannot have children or carry children? Then my firstborn came and she was perfect. I thought that was the end of miscarriages for me. When it happened again, I felt the wild grief that Adriel writes about.

As part of the launch team, I read Grace Like Scarlett

As I read, I thought of my experiences and the women I have known since then who miscarried, while reading, images of women I knew who bled and suffered flashed through my mind. Women who had no more children following a miscarriage, women who were afraid to name their babies as they ran from their grief, women who lost their faith when they lost their child, women who went on to have other children and, surrounded by that blessedness, dwelled little on the little ones they lost.

This was the first book I have seen that addresses this topic. She does so, unapologetically from a Christian perspective. In times of crisis, one’s values become sustenance. They either strengthen or fall away. Even for those who do not hold a Christian worldview, she offers poignant insights on the nature of grief, shame, comparison and jealousy worthwhile to behold.

We cannot know exactly what someone is experiencing it, which makes it nearly impossible to prescribe what the person should do with her grief. Adriel’s approach is to walk alongside and share about her three miscarriages. She emphasizes how important is not to compare our grief to another person’s grief, either in order to pity ourselves more or minimize our suffering.

Adriel dives in. Her language is direct and gritty in those early chapters. The particulars of trauma stain our memories so deeply that her bluntness resonated with me. It mirrored the way I experienced my experiences, but in ways not generally shared in polite society. Her writing softens after that because it would be far too much intensity for an entire book.

Suffering is normal

but Adriel preaches that at the heart of God is love for us and a desire to help us. She identifies that God works with us to help us, the key word being with. It will not happen magically without us leaning into our grief.

In Chapters 6 and 7, Adriel brings in the testimony of women she interviewed, universalizing the message to fit the many shades of grief.

When discussing shame, she gives voice to the irrational jealousy that accompanies loss. This jealousy gets us nowhere, but it does point us back to ourselves to see which wounds hurt most.

In the end, she writes the path I walked.

These times of crisis are opportunities for grace. An open heart’s capacity is to feel the full range of emotions. That is what it means to be fully alive. To shut off or run from the bad means, eventually, we will no longer be capable of fully experiencing the good. Grief must be leaned into, or as Adriel put it, we must duck-dive, head first, into that wild world of emotions. Only then, can we find healing.

For more thoughts on Grace Like Scarlett, check out my review on the Blessed is She Blog.

A Mother’s Grief: Reflections on the Most Holy Rosary

Update: With the End of May came the end of this offer, but sign-up to receive free reflection ebooks and mini-liturgies for the home in the future!

 

The irises are fading, the mums are mounting and the herbs are filling out the little flower bed whose sole purpose when I first planted was to give me lavender.

It is May in California. The blossoms are past and summer fast approaching.

To honor our Mother Mary in this month of May, I would like to offer you something very close to my heart.

It is a free ebook, with meditations on each mystery of the rosary. The meditations are written

for those mothers dying to themselves with every diaper

for those mothers who have raised their children

for those mothers whose children have walked away

for those mothers who have buried their children

for those mothers who never met their children

because in embracing motherhood, we embrace the cross.

 

Here is a sample of what you’ll receive…

Meditation sample

Click here to receive it in your inbox.

The link will take you to a form to enter your email address and once opted in, you’ll receive a link to the ebook.

If you choose to share it with others, I do ask that you send them the sign-up link in this email, rather than the direct link. Every email address on the list brings me a step closer to having the platform publishers crave to bring my story to you, in print.

 

Meeting Kathryn

This is Katy.

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Katy became Kathryn.

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And Kathryn became Kathryn Casey.

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A few months later Kathryn Casey became “Mommy”

but she never got to meet her child

because at the emergency department, they learned the little 7-week old sac inside her was empty.

 

I felt those miscarriages all the way to my bones. It broke my view of the world, from a safe place sheltered by the hand of God, I felt exposed to a world of chaos. It opened up a world of fear: what if I cannot have children or carry children? Then I had Miriam and she was perfect. I thought that was the end of miscarriages for me. When it happened again, I just felt that wild grief Adriel Booker writes about in Grace Like Scarlett.

 

Time marched on

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Until Katy and Kathryn and Kathryn Casey

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gave birth to the sweetest cleftie in the world.

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There are only a handful of photos of me from that time period, when I, Kathryn, changed from this …

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to this …

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and finally to this…

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During Peter’s first surgery, I could not bear to stay in the hospital. Two years later, I put on the bunny suit and held Regina’s hand as she fell asleep in the operating room.

 

During the intermission of Madama Butterfly, my husband and I saw a man whom we had not seen in, at least, three years. Seeing me dressed in velvet, with a sleek ponytail and a bright smile framed in brighter lipstick, he said, “wow, motherhood really agrees with you. You look so wonderful.”

I felt the brightness then.

Reaching back, I am still trying to remember who I was before those two prenatal diagnoses and now.

What I began to see is that I lived with less suffering, but also I lived with less joy. In growing my capacity to feel so much grief and so much heartache, my capacity to feel so much happiness and pleasure also increased.

I always imagined that if I lost a child, the world would fade to black-and-white. How could a mother go on?

It was black-and-white for a while.

And I did go on.

I leaned into grief, allowed it to wash over me, allow myself to feel the full depth of my sorrow.

The depth of suffering is the cross, and so, in Christ, the resurrection follows.

There would come a time when God would fill what he emptied” and so he did.

Change of Life and Change of Tribe

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

One life change, and everything in your life changes. How many of us can say we are exactly where we thought, at age 10, age 15 or age 20, we would be now? It is not a bad thing.

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At Sienna’s Walk, an event focused on promoting pregnancy and early infant loss, I met a woman who said she struggles with sharing her story. How often do we feel embarrassed, not because of how we feel, but because of how we think others might feel when they hear us? Will we make them sad to share what our life is really like? Will the conversation be awkward? Do we feel survivor’s guilt either because we have not suffered as others have or, we have, but came out on the other side?

She said the bravery of Elizabeth Severson, who organized Sienna’s Walk following the birth of her stillborn child, and the public nature of the event gives her courage to speak. I can understand that.

Before and after the debut of my first-born child, I suffered two miscarriages. My fourth-born child has a chronic illness. My fifth child was stillborn, diagnosed with a fatal condition in her 20-week ultrasound and carried to term.

In book marketing or online entrepreneurship, there is a lot of talk about one’s tribe. One’s tribe are the people who are committed to the things you are committed to. They are like-minded, have similar values and will support you.

I thought I knew who my tribe was. They were Catholic, they were Californian. Until I studied in Minnesota and then they were people who lived in Minnesota, who returned to California to be near family. They were married, had children, probably homeschooled. Before that, when I volunteered for a year a missionary work, I was with everyone who checked the boxes of my 18-year-old expectations of who my tribe would be, yet there were no artists, no poets. I found those in Ashland, Oregon.

Our tribe changes as our lives change. I saw friendships change, most drastically as I stayed bedside at UCSF with my baby. Then my tribe consisted of people who could be empathic, but not too empathic, never avoiding but never forcing the conversation, not afraid to wish my daughter a happy birthday or ask how my son was doing.

Again and again, the women I spoke to at Sienna’s Walk referenced the blessing it was to be with others who knew grief. “Everyone has a story,” Elizabeth Severson said. Like the #MeToo movement, Melissa Ahlem from Jessica’s House said others need to know they are not alone. There is silence around these stories, but no one is alone. Everyone has a story.

My tribe changed when I began to feel particularly at home with those who suffer. Those readers who have read regularly since I began this column will note how the tone has changed.

And change is okay.

It is part of life. We struggle with the fear, “what does this mean?” We struggle with the loss of identity, “I always prided myself with…fill in the blank.” Reliability? Cheerfulness? Being available to others? Intellectually and not emotionally driven?

The change in life signals an opportunity to grow areas of personality that have not had as much of an opportunity to grow. I learned about time management in college and I learned about patience in parenthood (sort of) and I learned about letting go in the hospital. I could learn these lessons in any of those cases, but one was needed more than the other at specific times.

Social media is helping make us more aware that the tribe is out there. Whether #MeToo for sexual harassment, a deaf actress teaching her family how to live in silence in “A Quiet Place,” an obese actress looking beautiful as Kate in “This is Us,” or children who grieve at Jessica’s House and parents who celebrate life at Sienna’s Walk. It is not comfortable to encounter someone from a totally different tribe. We may not know what to say. We may fear to say the wrong thing.

You do not have to say the right thing. If time permits, just ask them their story.

Photos from the Week

As a new experiment, I will share with you my photos from the week. Some are photos from home and others are from my work with the newspaper. Because the paper is not online, I have been considering the best way to share. I photograph with an old DSLR camera that does not have wifi, so Instagram is not an option. If you have a recommendation or feedback on this new format, please feel free to make recommendations in the comments section!

For now, let’s try a weekend sharing…

After our first decent rainfall of the season, Starn Lake made its first appearance before quickly disappearing.

We photographed the kids’ in order to make labels for the cubbies. The labels are made, but not installed, so clean up continues to be a bear. Peter would not stop posing for the camera. Fitting, his second birthday was the day before.

The last shades of Christmas are fading from the Casey house. The remnants of our wreath were a bit too intricately wired for me to be able to remove by hand.

Pink buds began to sprout reminding me it has been nearly one year since my Celeste died. These bulbs were the ornaments of her funeral reception.