Due Date

Today was the big day. Or it should have been the big day.

Ryder’s official due date.

I have been anxious leading up to today. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. But it has actually been a pretty good day. Sam kept busy at work while I had a guitar lesson and ran errands. Tonight, we just spent time together cooking dinner and watching movies. Two ladies on a Facebook loss group lit candles in his memory today. It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture.

Ryder Hudson Marshall

Monday the 15th was Ryder’s two month “angelversary”. The day came and went with little to show for it. At the end of the day, I was feeling partially relieved and partially guilty that it had felt like any ordinary day.

The very next day, I found a pamphlet in my purse titled “Handling the Heartbreak When a Baby Dies.” I have no memory of receiving the pamphlet and I had just cleaned out my purse the week before, so surely I would remember someone giving it to me…. right? (If you are the person who gave this to me, let me know so I don’t feel so crazy. Ok? Thanks!) Anyways… The pamphlet contained an article written by Jane Marie Lamb, the founder of SHARE, a group for bereaved parents. Here is the opening quote, which she attributes to a SHARE parent:

“One day you feel together and the next couldn’t be worse. It comes and goes–the shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, emptiness, and aching arms. I crave privacy, yet I can’t tolerate being alone. I often feel angry that society doesn’t seem to accept any grieving that takes more than six weeks… The pain subsides, only to come flooding back again. At times, I even relish it–after all, it is part of my baby[…]”

I felt like I was reading all the things I’ve felt but haven’t had the words to say. Extreme emotions are what typically drive my writing–whether it be an extreme high or an extreme low–so when I’m having a rather “normal” day, it’s hard to find much worth writing about. If I’m not grieving with tears or rejoicing through laughter, I mostly just feel numb. And I don’t like that feeling… or lack of feeling, I guess.

One emotion running rampant in my head these days is apathy. It’s not intentional, but it’s there.

I’m sorry I didn’t sign up on your care calendar to bring a meal after you had your baby. I wanted to, but we were at home having meals brought to us.

I’m sorry for scrolling past your pictures on Facebook or Instagram of your baby’s monthly milestones. I really do want to celebrate with you, but it’s just too difficult to think about. They are milestones I’ll never get to celebrate with Ryder.

I’m sorry that I haven’t asked you how your son/daughter is liking the new sport/activity they are participating in or how summer camp went. I’m too busy wondering if I’ll ever get to spend a summer with children of my own.

I’m sorry I haven’t asked how you’re doing. My mind is running in a million directions and I forget to ask about your struggles sometimes. Just know that I do think of you. I wonder how you are and I say prayers for you each day.

I read quite often about friendships that are lost after the loss of a child. At first I couldn’t believe it. How could friends abandon you in your greatest time of need? But now I understand. I don’t think I’ve lost any “friends” on Facebook, but there are friends who have stopped interacting with me. I guess they’ve either gotten tired of reading my posts about loss or they just don’t know how to talk to me. Either way, it’s sad. I often feel very isolated–like I’m on the outside looking in. But I’ve come to learn who my true friends are and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.

In Sunday School this week, we were asked to watch for blessings in the everyday. Friendship is one of the blessings I’ve put on my list. I have a few very close friends and I cherish them deeply.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” – John 1:16

With hope and love,
Kristen

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Ryder’s Daddy

I want to introduce you to my husband.

{Isn't he handsome???} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

{Isn’t he handsome???}
Photo by Erica Mae Photography

His name is Samuel and I love him dearly. He is my complete opposite in every way. He is funny, he is loud, he is outgoing, he is athletic, he has musical talent, he loves being surrounded by big groups of people, and he seems to be completely fearless.

My handsome 2

We met in 2009 when I came back home to Tyler after college graduation. A new student ministry was getting started and I was asked to lend a hand to help get it off the ground. Our first event was a city-wide scavenger hunt. (You know, one of those where you’re given little assignments and you have to snap a picture as proof.) Well, there was this guy. And he was cute, he was nice, and he was just so silly!

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{“Get your wackiest team member to do something crazy with a celebrity.” His interpretation: propose to a news reporter. Because of course!}

The moment this picture was snapped, I knew I’d marry him one day! He claims it took him a little longer to realize it because he thought I was too old for him and figured I wouldn’t give him the time of day. Boy, was he wrong!

A few days ago, my devotional talked about transformations, and the reflection question instructed me to think about a transformation that I have witnessed. My mind immediately went to Sam.

Watching him transform into a daddy over the six months of my pregnancy was fascinating. He has always loved me well, but adding a baby into the mix created subtle changes in him.

He insisted that he attend each and every doctor’s appointment. At first I felt bad that he would need to take off work to go with me, but I am so very glad he insisted!

He was there to celebrate with me when my pregnancy was confirmed. He was there when we heard the heartbeat for the first time. He was there when the sonogram showed our boy’s sweet face. He was there to hold my hand when we first found out about the CHD diagnosis. And he was there to cry with me when we were told that Ryder wouldn’t make it.

After the diagnosis, he persistently asked questions to better understand all of our options and plans. And he insisted that we seek a second opinion when my hope started to fade.

In the weeks leading up to Ryder’s birth, he talked to him, read to him, and prayed over him. On the day Ryder was born, he held him, kissed him, and cried for him. He was a wonderful coach through all 28 exhausting hours of labor.

I have heard and read many stories of men having a difficult time bonding with their babies before they are born. After a stillbirth, many men have no way of connecting emotionally. Sam didn’t seem to have any trouble bonding with Ryder. I’m sure it helped that we talked about him every day, we felt his kicks and movements as Sam spoke to him in my belly, and we saw his face almost weekly through our numerous appointments. We knew him well.

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

{Sam spending some time with Ryder}

Father’s Day was tough. It was almost harder for me than Mother’s Day. Not only was I dealing with a myriad of emotions, but I watched Sam ride an emotional rollercoaster of his own. He wasn’t just mourning the loss of Ryder–he was grieving the loss of so many possibilities. The games of catch they won’t get to play, the fish they won’t get to catch, the driving lessons he won’t get to teach. So many hopes and dreams that seem to have vanished.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own grief that I wonder if I’m failing him. Was I a good wife today? Did I love him well today? Was I attentive to his needs today? What more could I have done to help him today?

He is so patient with me. And so forgiving. He has been my rock and he has kept me sane. I couldn’t imagine doing life with anyone else.

With hope and love,
Kristen

New Normal

Life looks a little different these days as we try to navigate our “new normal.” Sam went back to work the Monday following Ryder’s birth, but I haven’t returned to work since school let out for Spring Break and I was put on hospital bedrest in March. I do miss work, but I’m glad I took the time off. My brain needed some time to shut off and reboot. I’ll return to my job full-time in the Fall when school starts up again.

My days in the “before” period consisted mostly of work, errands, meals, and sleep. And now? Now I’m getting to do all the things I used to put off until “some day.”

Some day, I’ll start reading morning devotionals while I sip my coffee. – check!

Some day, I’ll have time to read all those pretty books sitting on my bookshelves. – check!

Some day, I’ll make time to work out three days a week. – check!

Some day, I’ll learn how to play that guitar I got in college. – check!

Some day, I’ll get to meet my husband or my friends for lunch during the week. – check!

Well, “some day” has arrived. I finally have the chance to do all these things I’ve put off for so long. And it’s so refreshing!

But there are also activities that I never planned would be part of my life. Like support groups. Last Tuesday, I went to my second Glory Babies meeting. This time I took Sam with me. I think he was nervous about going, but in the end he said he wouldn’t mind going again next month. I thank God daily for such a supportive husband. And if we have to walk this path, I’m glad we are making new friends along the way.

I’ve had the chance to spend the last two Saturdays in the Dallas area with my best friend and her family. This Saturday, we celebrated her daughter’s third birthday. Princess-themed, of course! As soon as we arrived for the party, she pulled me in to a bedroom to see her new dollhouse and castle. Last time I saw her, she was just starting to put three words together. This time, she was ordering me around and even using different voices for all the dolls as we played. It’s been so fun to watch her grow! She calls us Kwi-ten and Uncle Sam. It’s pretty adorable. The previous weekend, we attended a Phi Psi fraternity alumni event at TopGolf. We’d never been before and it was a blast! Can’t wait to go again.

It’s odd how four hours of round-trip travel and an exhausting day can actually feel like a breath of fresh air. Besides my blood relatives, my best friend and her family are one of the few things that have been consistently part of my life over the past seven years. She took me in when I needed a place to live during grad school, she stood by my side while I said my vows to Sam, she was there for Ryder’s birth, and she always seems to know when I need some words of encouragement. She’s my person.

I wrote here about getting guitar lessons for my birthday, and I had my first lesson last week! I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible student. It takes me forever to learn a new concept, I always forget to practice, and then I forget things easily. But my teacher is also my friend and she was really good about teaching to my level and explaining things simply. (Stevie, if you’re reading this, I promise I’m practicing!!! Even though my fingers really hurt…) I’ll probably never be a songwriter or a worship leader, but I’m very excited to learn something new. I’ve always felt an emotional connection to music, so I think this will be good for my soul.

Tomorrow, I’ll have my morning coffee, read my devotional, have lunch with a friend, practice my guitar, and probably do some yoga. It’s all new to me. But it’s my new normal. And I could get used to it!

image

With hope and love,
Kristen

Walking with Grief

Since Ryder’s birthday, I’ve found quite a few things to help me as I walk through grief. This blog has helped immensely, but it’s just me and my thoughts. When grieving, you really need outside resources to help you up when you feel so stuck in your thoughts that there seems to be no way out.

People

People have been my first line of defense to keep from sinking into a depression. It’s a lot harder to get stuck in your thoughts when your friends are dragging you out of the house for dinner, to play cards, or watch them sing karaoke. Visitors, even a couple days after Ryder’s birthday, gave me a reason to get out of bed, take a shower, and put on clean clothes. That’s a pretty exhausting feat when you’ve just lost your son. But it’s a necessary step toward healing.

Support Groups

At first, I joined groups on Facebook, meeting women all over the world who have been, or are going through, similar situations. They’ve also introduced me to other bloggers who write about grief. It’s not a fun club to be in, but I sure am glad I’m not in it alone.

This week I attended my first support group meeting. There’s a group in town called Glory Babies for those grieving the loss of a baby during pregnancy or infancy, or those struggling with infertility. You can find out more about the group here.

This week, it was just the founder and me. That made me very nervous. I don’t handle awkwardness well and I’m no good at small-talk. She told me that sometimes there are ten people and sometimes there are none, but that “it is always exactly what it needs to be.” She was so right! We had a great chat. I think I really needed that one-on-one time with someone who has been where I am now. It’s refreshing to know that there is a future. I can make it. She spoke a lot about Ryder’s purpose. It’s exactly what I needed to hear. I look forward to future meetings.

Books

I buy my books like I buy my wine. If it’s pretty, then it must be good. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for me on the book side. Wines… not so much.

Look at this book!

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{Savor by Shauna Niequist}

Isn’t it beautiful?!? Even the inside is beautiful. And I don’t just mean the blue-gilded pages, though that’s my favorite part. I’ve only read a few of the devotionals so far, but I like it. It’s real. It talks about real life. And I like that.

Each day’s devotional is one page long and starts with a scripture. Then, the author shares a story from her life to tie in the scripture. It ends with a reflection question to think on. It’s really great if you journal during your quiet times.

I’ve always been a quitter throughout my life. I’d start a sport and quickly realize I hated it and quit. I’d start a journal, forget about it one day, then get so far behind that I’d give up and quit. I’d start devotionals, only to get too busy…. and quit. You get the picture.

I don’t want to quit this. I’ve never been one to spend oodles of time in the Word. (I know… bad Christian.) I’ve been more likely to just memorize individual verses or read other books that talk about the Bible. I’ve always been a Cliff’s Notes kind of person. That’s why I’ve always loved the idea of a devotional. Hopefully this one will stick!

I’ve also read I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith. It was given to me by a couple of church friends when we found out that Ryder wouldn’t make it, and it was exactly what I needed after losing him. It’s actually a very good book for anyone to read. It gives the reader insight into what someone going through loss may be thinking. Angie Smith’s husband is a member of the Christian group Watermark and they wrote a song called I Will Carry You for their daughter who they lost. It’s a beautiful song and we played it during Ryder’s memorial service.

Yoga

I’m honestly not sure about this one yet. Arizona State University is doing research on how yoga helps bereaved mothers through their grief. It’s a twelve week study and I just started it yesterday. It was an intro day, so I just watched videos on technique, breathing, and props that can be used. I don’t even know if I like yoga. But… I was once that grad student begging for participants for research. (It’s really hard to get people to do something for free. Even if it’s the equivalent to a personal trainer.) So I’m going to try my best to stick with it. (I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter. I’m not a quitter…)

This is just a small list of things to help with grief. I’d love to hear what has helped you through difficult times!

With hope and love,
Kristen

The Dirty Thirty

Yesterday (Wednesday) was my 30th birthday. Thirty! I don’t feel thirty. Or maybe I do. I can’t handle all-nighters anymore or more than two glasses of wine… but otherwise, I feel so young!

My wonderful husband pulled off a fabulous surprise party! He’s tried surprises before, but I usually figure it out or at least have a hunch. But this time I was genuinely surprised!

I’ve been so busy/distracted/depressed lately that I didn’t feel much like planning anything, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t celebrate somehow. Sam eventually came up with the plan that we could have a nice quiet dinner by ourselves on Wednesday and that he would take care of planning something for Saturday with friends. It’s hard for a planner like myself to turn over control to a non-planner like Sam. But I just couldn’t fathom trying to do it myself. Too exhausting a task for right now.

So we went to dinner in the rain, and lo and behold… my friends and family were there waiting for us! There was confetti and balloons and sushi and wine and cupcakes and it was fantastic! We had a great time and I’m so glad I got to celebrate. I got some genuinely thoughtful gifts and I think I’m most excited about guitar lessons. It will be so much fun to try something new this summer. I need a hobby other than watching Fixer Upper reruns and reading blogs all day long.

Hubby bought a ukulele this week and my guitar came out of hiding, so we joke about starting a band. Can you imagine?! Ha!

{Birthday celebrations at Cork}

{Birthday celebrations at Cork}

I’ve always wanted to do something big for the “Dirty Thirty“. In the past, my birthday hasn’t always been the greatest day. For many years I had tests and finals, and since college I’ve typically been in meetings or under work-related stress. I was thinking that the big 3-0 may be an end to my un-happy birthday streak. But a few short months ago it dawned on me that I would be very pregnant on the big day. This meant no sushi, no wine, and most likely no energy. I selfishly whined about it…

But, OH, what I wouldn’t give to still be pregnant! I would be 33 weeks along today. In three more weeks, I would have to be in Dallas per Doctors’ orders so they could keep an eye on me. I would most likely be induced at 37 or 38 weeks.

I miss my Ryder. So. Much.

I had a great day yesterday. I almost feel guilty about it now. How could I have so much fun? I’m supposed to be grieving, right? Not laughing and enjoying myself. I know it’s normal to feel that way and I keep telling myself that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I spent the afternoon shopping for myself, mostly for post-pregnancy clothes since barely anything fits me these days. I also went to a Christian bookstore in town and bought a children’s book. The day Ryder arrived we had gone there looking for a book of Bible stories to read to him at night. We found one, but I also found a book called God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergen. I cried as I flipped through the pages in the middle of the store. In the end we put it back, deciding we’d get it another time. Yesterday, I decided I had to go back for it.

One page says, “‘We went to the doctor and heard your heartbeat,’ she said. ‘I cried happy tears then.'” We had been to see the doctor earlier that day. Ryder’s heartbeat had been so weak. But it was there. And I cried.

Another page says, “‘Umm, Mama? I was wondering… Did you ever want a different baby? One like Samuel the seal or Fredrika the fox?'” And the mama says, “Never, ever, ever. Your papa and I wouldn’t trade you for the world.” And we certainly wouldn’t. God gave us Ryder and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

I just wish he could have been here to celebrate with me.

With hope and love,
Kristen

Nurses Day

Today I went to the hospital, to the labor and delivery floor, to pick up pictures of Ryder. I’m not sure what brought on the initial confidence in thinking that I could do that by myself… But I did. And I survived!

I was a bit nervous as I walked across the skyway and into the main hospital, but today just happens to be National Nurses Day, so I went to the hospital bearing gifts. A dozen bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Yum! The nurses ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the cakes and sweetly asked how we are holding up. I smiled and let them know we’re doing ok, they gave me the pictures, and I got the heck outta there.

In the elevator on the way up to the fourth floor, I chit-chatted with a doctor. On hearing that I was headed to the L&D floor, he cheerfully asked, “Boy or girl?” With only a minor hesitation and a smile on my face, I replied, “I had a baby boy and I’m headed to pick up his pictures.” As the doors opened, he said his congratulations and that was that.

I didn’t panic. I didn’t cry. I didn’t run.

But I did give myself a pat on the back and a few “attagirls“. I’m sure it is only the first of a million times I’ll be confronted with questions like that. I’ve already made up my mind that if/when I’m asked “Do you have children?” I’ll say “Yes, one angel baby named Ryder.” It will probably satisfy most curious strangers, but for those who really wonder about the “angel” part, I’ll get to share the story of my precious boy.

I know that loved ones have shied away from asking too many questions for fear that will upset me. The thing is, I love talking about him and our journey. I may not have him here to hold in my arms, but I do have him on my mind and in my heart and I don’t want the world to ever forget about him.

So if you want to know more about our story, or see pictures of him, just ask. I may shed a few tears, but I’d love share!

{Ryder on his birthday}

{Ryder on his birthday} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

With hope and love, Kristen

On Not Caring

I read a blog post the other day titled “Eight Lessons for Newly Bereaved Mothers” by Lexi Behrndt over at Scribbles&Crumbs. The entire post felt incredibly relevant, but number three stood out the most: “Don’t be surprised when you just don’t care.”

This could not be more true. I used to care. A lot actually. About little things. And don’t get me wrong – I still care about important things, namely people. But the little things… Nope. Not a care.

It’s 11:00 am, I’ve been awake for hours but I’m still in bed and my stomach is growling.
Don’t care. Too tired. No reason to get up and I can eat later.

I haven’t had a shower in days and I’m wearing the same PJs I’ve been wearing for a week.
Don’t care. I’m not leaving the house and Hubby hasn’t told me I smell yet, so I must be ok.

It’s dinner time and Hubster asks, “What would you like to eat?”
Don’t care, as long as someone makes sure I eat something.

Someone asks, “What movie/show would you like to watch?”
Don’t care. I’ll only half pay attention anyway because my mind is elsewhere.

I’ve told people that I’m done with making decisions. They seem to think I’m joking. But I am, in fact, mostly serious about it. We’ve had to make so many decisions in the past 6 months, most being decisions I never thought would have to be made. And many decisions were made for us, without options or time.

Choosing to (eventually) get out of bed each day, choosing to love my husband, choosing to cling to God…. Those are really the only decisions that seem to have importance right now.

I appreciate being given options. Really. But don’t be shocked when I say something like “you pick” or “whatever sounds good to you.” I honestly mean it. And I promise that when I do finally have an opinion again, I’ll share it.

This doesn’t mean I’m depressed. It just means I see what’s most important and what’s not.

With hope and love,
Kristen