The heaviness of being empty: the crushing reality of a late miscarriage

st pete beach with henry

Note: this is a deeply personal story. I’m still struggling to articulate it – in real life and in words. As a writer, I find it impossible to not process my feelings in narrative form. As a journalist, I find it equally impossible to write only for myself, which is why I have a blog and not a journal.

On Dec. 1, I lost my second son due to (still mostly) unexplained reasons. He was 18 weeks old – too early to be considered stillborn, too late to still be a secret. The experience wrecked me in some way. Despite my attempts at maintaining a sunny disposition, I withered.  Despite my naturally steely resolve, I withered. Despite having just grieved the death of my sister’s newborn, I withered. Despite knowing nothing good would come from turning to the internet, I Googled – and withered. The people who knew me best thought I was doing OK. How could I let them think otherwise? No one wants to talk about dead babies, so I put on a nice face, feigned levelheadedness and withered.

Each night, I searched the web for stories like mine in a fruitless attempt to find answers or peace or a crystal ball forecasting that this will never happen again

Yet Google never brought me peace. It just made the situation worse. I cursed my luck. I cursed my body. I cursed the shitty misfortune of being born a woman and not a man. It’s always easier for men, or at least it is in the MINDFUCK that is reproduction. I cursed my genes. I held my sister as the doctors pulled her baby off a respirator. I watched in horror as my niece, born full term to loving parents, took her last breath. It was a moment so awful, so cruel and so sad that I vowed I would never write about it. Instead, I channeled this sadness into something positive – an online photo project that went semi viral. I wanted my sister to know that her daughter mattered. Now here I was, exactly six months later, curled up on my bathroom floor, moments away from delivering a boy who wouldn’t matter in the most literal sense. At 18 weeks, he wasn’t even old enough to warrant a birth or death certificate. 

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Turn down the noise. Parenting is hard enough.

On drums

A dear friend who doesn’t have children recently asked me a very standard, very benign question:

“How’s motherhood?”

I deliberated for a week. I typed and retyped responses in the dialogue box. I started writing things like, Motherhood is the best. It’s awesome. I’m astonished and humbled every day. I found my purpose, my true calling, the reason why I’m meant to be on earth. 

I erased those sentences and started again.

Motherhood is a mixed bag. Some days I feel like I’m floating down a river, bobbing effortlessly like an otter on its back, my head tilted toward the sun, my body weightless and my mind on nothing more than playing. Next to me is a smaller otter, a tinier version of myself. We’re splashing and slip-sliding and doing whatever it is otters do. The small otter is following my lead. I dip underwater. He dips underwater. I flip onto my back. He flips onto his back. The air is warm and the water is cool. The small otter climbs on top of my chest, burrows under my chin and together we float as one, at peace with each other in our wild, meandering domain. 

Then there are days when I feel like I’m swimming against the current in a heavy Mississippi flood. I can’t touch the bottom. My muscles ache from kicking and paddling. I’m swimming in slow motion past fallen tree limbs and wayward debris. A young boy is clinging to the branch of an old oak, crying like a kitten, desperate to be rescued. “Mama,” he cries  “Save me.” I push my body upstream, past overturned cars and floating piles of untethered junk, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. Beleaguered but not broken, I wade through waist-high weeds. I climb the tree, retrieve the child and clutch him to my chest. I lower us back into the water. I kiss his wet forehead and like Rose in Titanic I vow to never let go. He hugs me, happy to be in my arms. He tells me he loves me. Then he punches me in the face. 

When my childless friends ask me about motherhood I have an urge to respond with these longwinded analogies as if it’s the only way to articulate how terribly difficult it is. GAG.

The truth is nothing is easy. What’s easy is being a kid and even that’s hard.

I willfully signed up to be a mother, ugly bits and all. As much as it may feel like parenting is a herculean feat, it’s not. For better or worse, big people have raised little people for centuries. Same complicated human experience, different generation. Same circle of life, different shit getting our panties in a twist.

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Joining a co-op forced me to cook

Let me begin by saying I hate cooking. I really truly do not like to cook. Unlike most of the females in my family, I’m not wired for it. I much prefer pulling something out of the fridge and eating it with little to no prep time and little to no guilt. Even Rachel Ray’s 15 Minute Meals are too much trouble for me to follow.

I’m a lousy rule follower, which means I’m a lousy recipe follower, which means I have a hard time seeing a meal through from scratch to finish. When I was in my 20s, single and drinking alcohol every other night, my culinary hangups were a non-issue.  As a 31-year-old married mother of a wild child, I’m much more concerned about food, or as I like to think of it now: fuel. If you’re not into cooking, your family risks eating Rice-A-Roni and chocolate pudding cups for dinner. This is a problem.

I’m fairly health conscious, minus the occasional everyday peanut butter cup(s).

I’ve been a vegetarian* since I was 19 years old. I love fruits and vegetable, thus I try to stuff Henry with as many as possible. (Meat-and-Potatoes-Only Joe is a lost cause, so please refrain from sending suggestions on how to sneak nutrition into his food. And yes I’ve tried Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious and no, it did not deceive him.)

About a year ago, I joined an organic food co-op called the Hot Mamas of St. Pete. (If the group were called the Haggard Mamas of St. Pete I would not have joined.) I did this at the urging of my neighbor – a total hot mama – who needed someone with whom she could share her twice-a-month bounty. For $20 every other week, I split a laundry basket stuffed with everything from eggs to kale to baby eggplant to bok choy. Avocados and berries always go first. The greens and veggies stick around until I toss them in a stir fry, a salad, or a quiche.

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Rock me mama: Growth and change in 2014

I started this post a couple weeks ago and my intentions were to discuss the ways in which I think I’ve grown as a person, a mother and a journalist. I also intended to discuss the ways in which I think Joe has grown as a person, a father and a journalist. I thought this would be semi-interesting to at least four people.

I intended to share some of my brilliant and ghastly time management strategies, as well as some of my brilliant and ghastly potty training strategies.

I thought I’d tell you that Henry regularly uses the toilet, but since he also regularly bites other humans, throws close-fisted punches and flings chewed food on myself and the dog I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent housebroken yet.

I thought I’d tell you we got a new dog.

Folding him into our life has helped fill a void and mend an ache. After months of huffing Cubbie’s favorite blanket in an attempt to bring him back, I washed it today for the first time with a load of sheets.

I thought I’d tell you that after a year of hustling as a freelancer, work is starting to happen with as much surprising regularity as Henry’s good potty days. This month I filled my calendar with so many projects and assignments I had to turn down work.

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Christmas contest winner :: Ali’s story

At the beginning of the month I set out to see past the commercialization of Christmas, past the insanity of Christmas shopping, the bombardment of Christmas advertisements, the glut of Duck Dynasty merchandise, the $30 Elf on the somebody else’s shelf and the siege of angry holiday traffic.

I didn’t have to look too far to see beyond the racket. Everything I needed to see was “invisible to the eye,” as my favorite children’s book author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry so eloquently articulated in The Little Prince.

{“Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” In English this means, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”}

At the start of the month when I posted a storytelling contest I had no idea this one would come my way. As the author of this wacky blog, I expected to receive wacky stories ripe with sarcasm. I expected at least one reference to the Griswold family and one reference to the frozen flag pole in A Christmas Story.

Instead I got a story that began with a phone call at the end of November from a young woman in Kentucky named Ali. She wanted to know if I was available the week after Thanksgiving to take photos of she and her 20-month-old son. They would be on vacation for a week on Longboat Key. She wanted beach photos of just the two of them.

“Nothing extravagant,” she said. “Just an hour or so of me and him doing our thing.”

She seemed a little scattered, a little distant. As a journalist, I wanted to know more. As a photographer, it was none of my business. Were these Christmas portraits? Your basic mom/son portraits? She didn’t say.

I penciled her in for a Saturday just before sunset, which was how we got on the subject of lighting sky lanterns.

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‘Tis the season for embarrassing your mother at the grocery store

It’s Dec. 22! Hark the herald Henry sings! {More on that at the end of this post.}

How quickly time flies when you’re too busy to run off the beer and cookies you can’t stop consuming. Ugh.

{I asked Santa for more work this month and I got my wish straight away. Subsequently, I’ve asked him for better time management skills and a little help whittling my holiday beer gut. I’ve also asked for a pug puppy since this house could use a little more chaos, piss puddles and hyperactivity. I can hear those of you with multiple children and pets sniggering under your breath. Bitch has no idea what chaos is.}

A few housekeeping items:

On Christmas Eve I’ll introduce you to the VERY DESERVING winner of the Lance’s Christmas story contest. {Hint: the winning story veers pretty far from the original contest rules, but it was more RAW and powerful than anything I’ve read in the last four weeks. You’ll see why on Tuesday.}

What else?

Oh yeah. Remember my buddy Mifflin Lowe? His Christmas album, Wilton Wilberry and the Magical Christmas Wishing Well, inspired student artwork at an elementary school in Tampa. Apparently even 6th graders love Wilton. The coolest thing about the project? The kids used iPads to make digital illustrations. Soooo 2013! {The illustrations are at the top of this post.}

I love that even though they used computers to create them, they still look like kid artwork. Now that Henry is in preschool my estrogen makes it impossible to NOT LOVE ALL KID ARTWORK.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: motherhood makes you soft. {This is a good thing.}

Also: it breeds humility.

Want an example?

Of course you do.

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How to surprise your husband on his birthday

Most of the people in my life go out of their way to not celebrate their birthdays.

For example …

For her 50th birthday dinner, my mother, the diva, requested that my father to take her to Long John Silver’s for chicken planks and french fries. For her 77th birthday, my Oma took one look at the balloons I had hung up for her and said, “Vell, dees is the first time I’ve had balloons on my birthday.”

“The FIRST time?” I asked.

“Ve didn’t have balloons in Germany after the var.”

This was delivered with such a mix of melancholy and hardness that I felt at once glad and guilty for having hung them.

My Nana has bemoaned her birthday for years. Earlier this year, when I mailed her a container of homemade brownies, she told me to save myself the effort because she’s “an old crow” and the brownies were “all mush” by the time they arrived.

My sister PK has such severe birthday anxiety that as a child she refused to acknowledge the date. However, like any young ingrate she still liked receiving presents, so to ensure she’d still be gifted but not celebrated she invented a new birthday; an unbirthday for those of you who are into Alice in Wonderland. The date? May 11, the same day as my parent’s wedding anniversary. This was obviously a strategic move so my mother would be less apt to forget it. It worked. At 28 she still gets presents on this day.

Having said this, I do not come from a family of party poopers. Under different circumstances these people are SUPER fun and celebratory. It’s birthdays that bring out the Eeyore in them. Unlike me, this apathy stems less from a fear of mortality and more from a fear of ATTENTION.

My husband on the other hand is exactly the opposite. He’s a birthday whore.

He lives for December 8. Truthfully, he lives for the WEEK of December 8. For Joe it isn’t so much a birth DAY as a birth WEEK. He counts down to it like a child counts down to Christmas. (For the record, he counts down to Christmas too because I think he views Christmas as an extension of his birthday.)

December is Joe’s birth MONTH and he’d lay claim to all 31 days if Jesus’ big day didn’t get in the way.

Sometimes I enjoy his birthday whoriness. When you come from a family of limelight dodgers, it’s refreshing to see a grown-ass man get bitchy when you break tradition and unknowingly cut the first slice of his birthday cake. (“What’s wrong with you? It’s my birthday. I’m supposed to make the first cut.”)

Joe doesn’t open a bag of LJS chicken planks and call it a day. In the fall he types out a long list of things he’d like for his birthday and emails it to me in a Word doc.

This year he failed to send the September wish list. Probably because he’s been so busy supporting our family, being a superb dad to Hank and a patient, understanding and bighearted husband to his sometimes high-strung, sometimes neurotic, sometimes surly wife.

HE EARNED A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY. (And a ticket to see Trey Anastasio play the House of Blues in February.)

So on a weekend that kicked off Dec. 6 with my dear friend Gabriel’s wedding in Safety Harbor, Fla., I planned a two-day celebration that involved a surprise hotel stay at the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa, a surprise boat ride from the hotel to Hula Bay Club and a surprise dinner attended by a rotating cast of family and friends.

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I always knew manatees were the pugs of the sea. Now I have proof.

Today is Cubbie’s birthday. He would have turned nine. He would have gobbled up a celebratory gourmet dog cookie with a candle in the middle. He would have walked bowlegged through the neighborhood, greeting passing dogs and people with the kind of amiable superstar charm that is reserved for celebrity darlings like George Clooney and Tom Hanks. He would have nestled in bed beside me, keeping me company as I type this. He would have fallen asleep quickly, his barreled body warm and soft and all the things Cub was and isn’t anymore.

I wish I’d given him five celebratory gourmet cookies last year.

Joe told me I need to stop writing sad posts about the dog. He told me enough already, Heidi. You wrote your closure piece, now move on.

So today I moved on. I did what I thought was the best possible thing to do on Cub’s birthday. I loaded Henry into the kayak, tucked Cubbie’s ashes into a waterproof bag and pushed off into the bay at sunset.

The weather was perfect. The water was glass. The air was still and the park was quiet, save for my homeless friend Charlie, who wished us well as we paddled into the calm, orange distance.  My son was well-rested and contemplative as I explained to him the significance of today’s paddle.

“We’re going to scatter some of Cub’s ashes in the water.”

“Cubbie has ashes,” he repeated.

“Yes,” I replied.

“We see Cubbie again?” He asked confused, or so I thought.

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LANCE CHAT :: Q&A with singer Mifflin Lowe


The back story: Mifflin Lowe, the singer/songwriter I blogged about here, just released a kid’s Christmas album – Wilton Wilberry and the Magical Christmas Wishing Well. This 15-track collection of original songs and narration tells the story of a greedy kid, Wilton Wilberry, who every Christmas feels snubbed in the gift department.

Fed up with being under-gifted, he runs away from home and stumbles upon a magical wishing well that’s home to a rock ‘n roll Santa who makes all his wildest wishes come true. Soon he’s showered with more toys and candy than an overindulged celebrity child, which naturally leaves him feeling lousy and selfish. With the help of a Christmas princess, gluttonous Wilton comes to terms with his “gimmes” and finally sees value in the most overlooked gift of all: the love of family and friends.

Inspired by the sounds of Elvis, Roy Orbison, The Beatles and early hip-hop, Wilton Wilberry is a modern-day Dickens tale with a rock ‘n roll twist.

Please note: I’d never promote something on the Lance that I didn’t think was awesome. I have a huge soft spot for artists, especially artists whose visions and sensibilities align with mine. If I’m going to push products in this space, they’re going to have to be clever, meaningful and inherently funny. Miff hits all three with Wilton and his two previous albums, The King Who Forgot His Underpants and Beasts By The Bunches.

I love listening to music with Henry. It’s the feel-good, no-fuss, old-fashioned alternative to watching television. One of my favorite material possessions is the radio in my kitchen. It was a Christmas gift from Joe. I listen to more music in the kitchen than anywhere else, including the car. The kitchen is where I spend most of my rare indoor time with Hank. We dance. We sing. Sometimes I even line his stuffed animals on the bench seat at the table so we have an “audience” to entertain. Sometimes in the middle of these dance-offs I wonder who’s really the kid in our house.

Speaking of big kids, here’s Miff … looking more serious than usual …

HK: What kind of kid is Wilton Wilberry?

ML: Wilton is the archetypal little brother who always feels slighted, neglected, picked on and not so much under-appreciated as utterly unnoticed. This simmering resentment is brought to a quick boil during the holidays when Wilton ABSOLUTELY KNOWS his brother and sister will get the all good stuff like video games, skateboards and electric guitars and he will get nothing but the crummy stuff like socks, undershirts and cuff links. Cufflinks? What kid wants cufflinks? It’s even worse than cologne! When Wilton discovers the magical wishing well and the Rock ‘n Roll Santa, he’s able to turn the tables and get everything he wants. Sometimes he goes to the wishing well with catalogs and wishes for every single thing on every single page – and gets it all. Eventually his gifts fill the house, the front lawn, the street and the whole neighborhood while no one else gets a thing.

HK: It sounds like you have Santa issues.

ML: I suppose Wilton springs from the fact that my sisters were the princesses in our family. They were driven to grade school even though it was only three blocks away, while I was forced to rake leaves, shovel the walk, and refinish furniture.

HK: Why the name Wilton Wilberry?

ML: It arises from its alliteration with wishing well. I’m a sucker for word play and a particular fan of alliteration. Plus I thought the name implied a certain weeny-ness, which is part and parcel of Wilton’s character.

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Good grief Heidi. Christmas time is here!

I’ll be honest, Christmas stresses me out. Consequently, I end up blogging less around this time because my head is crowded with the things that distract from the true meaning of the holidays. You all know what these things are so I’ll refrain from ranting. (OK, one rant: The cavemen from Duck Dynasty just released a Christmas album – Duck the Halls. You can purchase it for $11.88 at Walmart, where the Duck Dynasty reigns supreme over every department in the store thanks to a MAJOR licensing agreement with America’s favorite bearded buffoons. I can only imagine what the workers in Chinese labor camps must think of us as they pump out Duck apparel, home goods, antibacterial band-aids and now a Christmas album. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-lame. Rant over.)

As a child I loved Christmas. (Duh, right?) I was neither spoiled nor religious, which meant at Christmas time I fell somewhere between the girl in a department store dress who went skiing and got the Barbie Power Wheels Jeep and the girl in a homemade jumper who read about Jesus and served soup to homeless people. I loved Christmas for all the twinkly reasons that many of you love Christmas.

I loved decorating my bedroom with strings of white lights. I loved curling up with my dog under the Christmas tree. I loved how the house looked from under the glittering pine branches, all speckled with ruby lights and homemade Christmas ornaments; my family coming and going in sweaters and scarves.

I loved watching the snow fill our yard. I loved being the first one to walk in it. I loved stomping a path to the grape fields. Always an alpha female, I loved knowing my sisters would have to (literally) follow in my footsteps. I loved listening to Christmas music. In the days before CDs, I’d record tunes right off the radio. Each Christmas I’d create a mixed tape of holiday songs, many of which were half-songs since I was repeatedly late to pressing the record button on my purple radio. I loved helping my mother address Christmas cards. I loved baking cookies. I loved advent calendars, mostly because behind each window was a piece of chocolate. (Who wouldn’t love that?)

I loved watching Charlie Brown make a statement with a sad, droopy tree.

I loved that my aunts, uncles and cousins would gather every Christmas Eve at my Nana and Papa’s house. I loved that even though we didn’t see each other all the time, we were guaranteed to see each other at Christmas time. I loved seeing us all shuffle around in big socks, my aunts huddled over serving trays, my cousins telling crude jokes, my uncles wondering how anyone will get home in the snow.

I loved Christmas because it stirred up a dreamy kind of feeling. Not because I knew I’d be showered with gifts or visited by Santa – though I’m sure these trappings played a small role in my excitement – but because everything seemed a little less ordinary in December.

As an adult this wonder starts to wane. Why? Because Christmas is a lot of work for adults. There’s the cooking, the baking, the shopping, the Christmas card distributing, the house decorating, the house cleaning, the present wrapping and a steady stream of exhausting social obligations. Traffic gets ugly. People get irritable. Money disappears quickly. Kids get greedy. Retailers trick you into thinking you need to buy reindeer antlers for your car and the next thing you know the inflatable snowman in your neighbor’s front yard is flipping you the middle finger.

Unless you’re Charlie Brown this stuff doesn’t bother you until you get old and crusty, but if you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking I’m too young to be old and crusty! If during the other 11 months of the year I can be merry and bright, why then can’t I be merry and bright during the merriest and brightest time of year?

This is where the Lance comes into play. In an effort to NOT BE A GRINCH, I plan to count down to December 25 with posts, contests and a few unusual giveaways that evoke the warm and fuzzies, starting with a Q&A tomorrow with children’s singer/songwriter Mifflin Lowe, whose new album Wilton Wilberry and the Magical Christmas Wishing Well is so much more worthy of your attention than Duck the Halls.