Eisley’s Birth Journey

In the beginning of December 2019, my 5th birth brought us Sterling, a wise and wild soul who only needed a mere six days to complete his work on earth. After his departure from this world, we were left with shattered souls and broken hearts. I gave birth, my womb was empty, but this time, so were my arms.

A still from Sterling’s birth video


And one day, in the midst of our grief, we learned of another who would join our incomplete family. At the end of December 2020, another wild soul made her way to us earthside.

After five fast labors, all between 1 and 5 hours long, I was used to rushing. I’ve rushed to hospitals, rushed to call the midwife while she rushed to get to me. We’ve even scrambled to fill the birth tub in time. My last three labors all began with my waters releasing and then, we didn’t have much time before baby was born. Eisley knew I needed a little more time and I was delighted to have a labor begin with waves instead of the familiar burst and rush of waters.

Eisley’s birth space

On the last day of December, I woke up with mild waves and called upon my birth team. The tub was already blown up and Randy (husband) lined and filled the pool, while my birth team trickled in. I was close to being fully dilated when everyone showed up, but baby was on the opposite side and needed to rotate all the way around before coming down to be born.  I wasn’t used to a relaxing, slower labor.  Lisa Marie (midwife) reminded me to enjoy my labor and that was something I had never considered before. Enjoy. I can enjoy this! It is work and it is hard, there will be some pain, but I can enjoy this. The waves felt intense, but far apart. I reached inside to feel where baby was and was discouraged by how high she felt. I knew we could have a while to go and I didn’t want everyone waiting on me.  Lisa Marie had to remind me again to enjoy this time. I got into the tub to float and relax during the waves. When a wave would begin, I would tell myself in my head, “I welcome this wave and I enjoy my labor” and those words somehow shifted my mindset, because the grip of pain would release a little when those words were in my mind.

My midwife, Lisa Marie, by my side

My birth affirmations were hung all around the room, with drawings of me and baby made by the kids, scriptures written out by my grandmothers and mom, words of love and encouragement from friends and family. The corner of the room was dedicated to Sterling,  his hand and foot prints and photo adorned the shelves along with his candle. My sister lit the candle for him and it burned while I labored. And Sterling brought heaven down. I felt him there with us and I wasn’t surprised one bit by the strength of his presence. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the amount of feminine energy, strength and support that I felt. Three of the strongest women I know, my mom, my sister, and my midwife (who is family to me) made up the majority of my birth team.  The notes of encouragement that hung on the walls around me were all written by different women in my life, each very close to me. Whether there in person or in spirit, I felt the peaceful, powerful strength of all these women together, like a pack of lionesses protecting my birth space and holding space for me.

Sitting in Queen’s pose, with a rolled towel under my belly, to help baby move into position.

My last birth had been private, just my husband and me with our midwife and her assistant/husband. This time, giving birth after the death of my baby boy, I knew we needed more support, so my mom and my sister became my doulas. My husband, having done this with me five times before, is a pro at being my birth partner. He has been right beside me, as my anchor, during the most intense parts of birth. He has held me, held my hands while I squeezed his, rubbed my back, kissed me, spoken birth affirmations into my ear, and has been right next to me during every birth. This time was different. The poor man was exhausted and drained after a long, crazy week, plus being up at 4am to work. It became clear that this time, HE needed support during the birth. He spent some time with me beside the birth tub, providing hydrotherapy by pouring water over my back. Then he went to go lay down for a minute to rest in another room. He ended up falling asleep and when Lisa Marie went to check on him, she covered him with a blanket. I love this detail because it reminds me that sometimes birth partners need support and rest. And the simple act of placing a blanket on him tells me that she was in tune to Randy’s needs as well. Fathers often tend to be forgotten during birth, but this is another reason why midwifery care is so magical. Our midwife took care of her laboring mama and she took care of dad too.

Randy providing hydrotherapy.

Lisa Marie told me that Randy was taking a nap so he could be rested when it came time to push. I was glad he was resting, since we could all tell that he seemed tired and just not himself. I noticed that I wasn’t completely myself either.  In the past, I’ve been chatty in between contractions. I’ve laughed with mom, sister, and husband right up until it was time to push. This time, I went inward. I was quiet, silent even. I would whisper to baby, “It’s just you and me together. We got this. We can do this.” For the first time, this wasn’t just me bringing a baby into the world- it was a journey that baby and I were on together. While Randy was out, the women stepped up to become my fill-in birth partners. My mom and sister each had turns pouring water over me. My sister took pictures to document the birth for me. My midwife was often by my side, rubbing my back and offering words of encouragement.
The waves would bring pressure and I would feel like I was close to pushing, but in between contractions, baby still sat high. I mentioned this to Lisa and she said I could try gently pushing with the wave to bring baby down. She sensed it would be soon and encouraged me. She spoke words of affirmation and reminded me that I was safe, baby was safe, and that I could safely bring baby into the world. I didn’t realize how much I needed that reminder until she said those words.

At one point, I was in my head thinking about who I wanted to be in the room when it was time to push. Mom? Sister? Just Randy? I was sorting through different scenarios in my head and finally, I needed it all to quiet. Finally, I just let go. I released whatever expectations I had surrounding this birth. I let go of my fears. I released the feeling that everyone was waiting on me and I realized, no one was waiting. Everyone was simply present. They wanted to be there and I wanted them to be there and I could take my time. They were open to whatever direction my birth would take and I needed to be open just the same. I decided to let the day play out however it was meant to. I didn’t focus on who would be in the room and when, I just let my labor run its course.

My birth team flowed in and out of the birth space. I was happy and at peace with however this was going to be. By now, it was my sister and I in the room. I was in such a meditative state, I didn’t speak. I focused on complete relaxation and surrender, allowing my body and baby to do what was necessary. I learned later that my sister was praying over all of us, specifically praying that any unspoken needs would be met. I remember thinking that it was amazing how all the women were so intuitive. They always seemed to know exactly what to say or do. While I know they all have strong intuitions normally, I know now that something heavenly truly was taking place there that day. I wonder if Sterling interceded for us too.

Lisa Marie would peek in or come into the room to just listen. She was in tune to me and every wave, every sound, even down to the expression on my face. Occasionally, she would step out for just a minute or two to give me space and to set up. The door to my bedroom/birth space was open so she could keep a watchful eye on me as labor progressed. Lisa told me that she sensed I could use my mom’s support and asked if she should go get her. I said yes and my mom came right by my side. She sat beside the tub. Her presence was quiet but strong. She whispered gentle words of encouragement and she was everything I needed.

I needed baby to move down and I whispered, “baby, come down, come down, come down”, then I barely pushed during the next wave. Suddenly, I felt 3 contractions right in a row, back to back to back. Randy and Aaryn were in the kitchen getting a bite to eat. My midwife stepped out of the room for just a moment to get a tray. It was just me (and baby) and my mom in the room. The pressure increased and I felt my waters release. My mom saw my water break and whispered, “okay”.  I was relieved because I knew that she knew we were getting close and at this point, I knew she wouldn’t leave my side. *She had stepped out with both Oliver’s birth (to settle a waking kiddo) and at Ever’s insanely fast birth (to call the midwife).

With the next wave, I found balance between relaxing and gently pushing, taking care not to bear down too hard. I reached down to feel if baby was crowning, but I didn’t feel her yet. This made me think we still had a few contractions to go, but I was wrong. Suddenly, I felt baby’s head come out into the palm of my hand and out she came in one contraction, head then body in one smooth flow of motion. There she was, floating beneath me, small and lovely and frosted like a birthday cake. I was captivated by her beautiful vernix all over her face and body. I looked at her and realized she was looking right up at me, eyes wide open, like she had something to tell me. Then I recieved her message, as I realized her cord was wrapped all the way around her neck and wrapped again around her shoulder. I was stunned for a split second and then I remembered my training, acted quickly and calmly. I gently unwrapped the cord from around her neck and then from around her shoulder. I brought her up out of the water to my chest and sat back in the tub in complete relief, as everyone else entered the room, shocked and elated. We did it.

Eisley, I carried you for 38 weeks, 38 long weeks full of fear and detachment. I struggled to connect in the earlier months, when fear and trauma consumed me, but you showed me grace and you waited. You fought your way into my heart, like your big brother fought to give us six days. Loving you is effortless, but you’ve fought through a lot of darkness to get through to me. You’ve peeled back the layers of grief and trauma and let your light shine on us. You’re showing me a new way through life. In a lot of ways, it’s as if you’re carrying me now, as we go through life after loss together. You have taken your place in this family and have brought with you something new and fresh, a different kind of joy that I can’t explain or describe. Thank you for being ours and for teaching us that grief and joy and beauty will always coexist. You are a part of me and a part of him, and still entirely your own. You are and always will be a Wayfinder in your own right.
I love you, darling girl.

Photography by Vikki J. Photography
Photography by Vikki J. Photography

To the mama expecting another baby after loss:

Being pregnant after loss was the second hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, aside from the death of my son. I navigated through plenty of fear, worry, guilt and numbness, as I tried not to fall in love to protect myself. And then guilt consumed me for allowing myself to remain numb. I’m here to tell you that even if you feel disconnected, you love this baby and you have from the start. The difficulties of pregnancy after loss are worth it. When he/she/they arrive, you will be on a different journey, where sorrow and beauty collide. All the joy, excitement, beauty and love will catch up with you in the end, when you hold that baby in your arms. I keep your babies in my heart. I remember the ones who died and I celebrate the ones who come after death, to make your forever incomplete family just a little bit more whole.

Photography by Vikki J. Photography

A Love Letter to Loss Mamas

Dear one,

There are no words, written or spoken, that could ever describe the unimaginable pain you are experiencing. In the depths of your broken heart lives an indescribable love that you have for your baby, one that will never fade, but will continue to grow for as long as you live.


He knows your voice. She knows your touch. They know your scent and the taste of your milk. They knew your love. Whether your baby lived earthside for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months, even if your baby was born sleeping, he or she knew you and the love you have for them. Even in that short amount of time, you gave them enough love to last a lifetime and beyond.


I know you didn’t get to mother your baby the way you had imagined or for as long as you had hoped, but every moment mattered and imparted a love that only you could give.


I love you, mama.

Time Travel

The 5th through the 11th of every month is a sacred space for us.

I imagine a world where Sterling lived and what life might’ve been like for us. I also travel back into my memories and remember what we were doing this day, 4 months ago.

On this day, 4 months ago, I was here in the ER with my newborn son. We were still waiting for the ambulance to arrive and transfer us to the hospital that would admit Sterling. We were being reassured by the nurses and doctors that all tests were negative and it was most likely a case of RDS.

They said he most likely just needed to be on CPAP for a week or 2 before bringing him home safe and sound.

On the 6th, back in December, I remember the fear I felt. I remember the hope I had amidst the pain of watching the newest, tiniest member of our family struggle to breathe. And I remember how quickly our hopes were crushed later this day. By the afternoon, Sterling had stopped breathing and was intubated. By the evening, his heart had stopped and I watched in horror as they revived my 1 day old baby boy.

I remember thinking this was the worst experience of my life. But the truth is nothing is worse than the hell I’m living now.

Back then, he was still here. He was still alive and I could rest my hand on his chest and his belly and feel the warmth of his skin. I could brush my fingers through his soft little hair. I could kiss his chubby cheeks, while avoiding tubes and wires that kept him alive.

I realize it’s selfish to wish him back in that hospital room and deep down, I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. But the hospital days don’t seem as horrific now, because those were the days he was alive. As hard as they were, if I could go back and relive them, even with the same outcome, I would do it in a heartbeat.

This time, I would never leave his side, not even for a moment. And instead of being afraid of what’s to come, I would soak up and enjoy every single second of life with Sterling.

You don’t need to be sorry for me. I’m still one of the lucky ones. This may not be how I imagined Sterling’s life, but I’m thankful he lived at all. I’m thankful for the hospital days and the time I had with him. I’m lucky to be his mama.

Blanket Sniffing

Dear Sterling,

It is a hard day. I am overcome with grief. I can’t move. I can’t speak. I can barely breathe. I can only sit and wish you were here. So I gather your things and climb back into bed. Your sloth. Your little woobie. Your blankets.

Three little blankets that tell the entire story of your life. One you were wrapped in right after you were born. The next you were swaddled in during our one day at home. Lastly, the one you were wearing when you died.

I hold your things tightly up against my chest, wishing it were you instead. Desperately trying to soothe the burning hole that aches for you, I press them into me.

You should be here.

I find myself anxiously searching for your leftover scent that might be still lingering in the fabric. If I’m lucky, I’ll find it.

I sniff the elephant blanket, the blanket the midwife gave us and wrapped you up in a couple hours after your entrance into the world. This is the one that held onto your smell the longest, but I’m afraid that time is up.

I sniff the one you died in, but that one mostly just smells like the hospital. Not what I was looking for, but still enough visceral memory attached to that hospital room scent that brings me a little closer to you.

And finally, the one I swaddled you in the morning after your birth. After a night of snuggles and breastfeeding, after I dressed you in your one little outfit. The one I unswaddled from around you, going against Daddy’s warnings of disturbing a sleeping baby, so I could snap photos of you to share with the world.

And thank God I did because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have my favorite picture of you. The photo that sits as my phone screen wallpaper and is framed and hung on our wall.  The same photo that I used for your birth announcement and on the cover of your funeral programs.

I sniff and sniff until suddenly, I breathe in a familiar newborn fragrance, sweet and subtle, that warms me to my core. And just like that, I find you.

“Oh, there you are, son. Hi baby. I love you.”

Haters

Oh, the grieving mother. She can’t do anything right, can she?

If she grieves publicly, then she’s doing it for attention. Yet, if she doesn’t say any anything out loud, she isn’t grieving her baby.

If she talks about the one she’s lost, then she isn’t caring for her living children. But if she gives her living children attention, then she isn’t mourning the one she’s lost.

If she is having a hard time, then she is stuck in her grief and needs to move on, yet if she gets out of bed and lives her life, she is moving forward too quickly. 

And God forbid she ever smile or laugh or feel any joy at all after her loss, because that must mean she doesn’t love her dead baby.

The grieving mother can’t do anything without being met with judgement. With comments that echo, “If my baby died, I would _____” or “I wouldn’t _____” But the people who say these things don’t really know, do they?

The people who say these things are always those who haven’t come close to what the bereaved mother has experienced. They haven’t had to watch their child suffer in the hospital and fight for their life. Or hold their dying baby while their tiny body turns blue in their arms. Or go to check on their babes, only to find them cold and lifeless in their beds. Or have the promise of life be ripped from their grasp as they deliver a silent, still baby.

If you knew, if you really knew, your views would be different. Your judgement would melt away and you would know that the grieving mother doesn’t need your advice, but a little bit of grace and a whole lot of love and compassion. And remember, however you choose to proceed and whatever you decide to say about the grieving mother says a lot more about you and your character than it does about her.

I wonder

You would have been 3 months old today. And it hit me last night that this is all I know.

No stats, no milestones, no chance to see your personality come alive.

I don’t get to be amazed by the rate you’re growing or hear first laughs and giggles.

I never even got to see you smile.

No first foods or first steps or scrubbing walls where you’ve left scribbles.

No first day of school or first date, first car or first job.

No wedding day, no grandbabies, no chance to see you become a man.

All those dreams, gone. They died along with you.

And now all I have left is to wonder.

Grief VS Mourning

A few weeks after Sterling died, I read a psychologist’s explanation of the difference between grief and mourning. I’ll do my best to explain it. It goes something like this:

Grief is the way you feel about losing your child. It’s the earth shattering, heart-wrenching, spirit crushing pain that you are now tasked to live with for the rest of your life. The kind of unimaginable pain that no words are ever strong enough to describe and that no parent is sure they’ll be able to survive.

Mourning is the outward expression of grief. The way your tears are the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night. The way you stay cooped up inside your house, unable to move because even the effort it takes to breathe is too overwhelming.

I used to use the words interchangeably. But this text completely changed my view and soothed me immensely. Before, I thought it would be this bad forever and that was a horrible thought. Will I really spend the rest of my life in this much agony? Will I really go to bed every night shocked and grateful that we survived another day? Only to wake up every morning distressed and dreading that I would have to do it all over again?

Then again, I truly didn’t want this to get easier. The thought of that was even worse. It wouldn’t be right. Sterling deserves to be grieved intensely. Like every other child gone too soon, he’s too precious, important, and too loved for me to be anything other than completely destroyed by his loss.

But when I learned to separate grief and mourning, it brought me peace and hope.

Grief is unending and unchanging. The pain of this loss will never get any easier. I will carry it with me, wherever I go, every second of every day, until the day that I die and am reunited with my son. But the mourning process? THAT is what changes. Of course, I will mourn him every single day, but the way I mourn won’t always be this bleak. It will one day become a little lighter to carry, at least on some days. I haven’t quite made it to that point, but I know there are brighter days ahead. And the best part is- every day that passes is another day closer to heaven.

Grace

I recieved this question from another loss mama: how do you manage the bad days with kids?

As I heated store bought soup for dinner, I realized the answer to that question.

Grace.

Grace to the people around you, but especially, give grace to yourself. Shower yourself with grace. Bathe in it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Grace for me yesterday was serving pre-made, store bought soup for dinner. It was accepting help when it was offered. It was neglecting the laundry to soak up snuggles and using paper plates so I didn’t have to worry about dishes. It was wearing pajamas all day and watching way too much TV with my living kids.

Then, it was throwing every ounce of guilt out the window, because this is grief. This is survival. I’m not the mom I used to be and for now, that’s okay. We’ll find a little more normalcy with each day that passes.

And don’t worry- your children will give you all the grace you need from them too.

hi, it’s me.

If you’re new here, you’ll quickly learn that I’m not one for selfies. I tend to feel more comfortable on the other side of the camera, unless I’m in a photo with my kids.

My husband took this photo of me yesterday and I felt that I should show my face today, so you can get a better picture of the mama behind the words.

Every day, I write to my boy, about my boy and all about my thoughts and feelings as I openly mourn. You’ll hear a lot about my jouney through grief, while I navigate the loss of one who I cannot bear to live without.

If you’re another grieving mama, I hope you’ll feel safe here with me. I started sharing as an outlet for my grief, as well as a way to connect with other grieving moms and their families. And at some point, I turned into a bit of an advocate mama, once I realized how much Sterling’s life (and our experiences) could help others in the long run. If I had only met another UCD mama before Sterling was born…

I appreciate you for being here. I am honored that you’re along for the ride and quite frankly, blown away that anyone wants to stick around and hear what I have to say.

For now, all I have to say is thank you!

Mommy Minus One

I felt ready to come back to our mommy group today. Honestly, if I didn’t, I would have honored that and stayed home.

It’s important that we, as grieving parents, honor every emotion and every feeling as it comes up. This is a healthy way to mourn, by showing ourselves grace and giving ourselves the space to mourn when we want, the way we want. (Don’t worry. I have plenty of unhealthy grieving habits too.)

I was excited to see my mama friends today. But when I pulled into the parking lot, the weight of our reality hit me so hard.

Wait a minute. I’m supposed to be unloading 5 kids right now. I’m supposed to be wrapping a 2 month old baby Sterling up to my body before heading in.

I wept into a napkin from the glove compartment, as my 3 oldest kids unbuckled their seatbelts and crowded around me.

“I’m sorry, guys” was all that would come out in a whisper. They all laid their hands on me and my oldest and very wise 6 year old, Cadence, rested her head on my shoulder.

“It’s okay to cry about Sterling,” she assured. We sat here for almost 20 minutes, before I pulled myself together and dropped the kids off to their classes.

Then I got to my table and I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as I hugged the other mamas.

I’m supposed to be introducing him to my friends today. And instead, I arrive empty handed.

I did end up having a great time. I enjoyed being around friendly, familiar faces.

But loss just hovers over every little thing we do. Life will never be the same for any of us. And as sad as this is, I still wouldn’t change it. I would willingly choose every second of pain, every moment of heartache, every tear that is shed to have Sterling for the 6 days he lived.