A Thank You Letter to My Mom

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This Sunday marks my sixth Mother’s Day without my Mom. Last year, I made a conscious decision not to write a Mother’s Day post, I didn’t want to bum people out or seem too self-indulgent. This year, however, I find myself in a different position and feel compelled to express, publicly, the sincere gratitude I have for my mom as I start my own journey into parenthood.

For the past several years, Mother’s Day has been a pretty dark day. I try to keep myself occupied and distracted and not notice the seemingly incessant ads that run leading up to the day (although I’ve told my husband, I’d rather get nothing at all than one of those janky looking charm bracelets from Kay or Jared. I never want to hear our child say “We went to Jared.”) or the happy gaggles of mothers, children, and grandmothers milling about town that day.

Although I still miss my mom every day, this year Mother’s Day takes on a new meaning for me. On Sunday, I will not only remember and celebrate my own mom (and celebrate my mother-in-law), but I will also celebrate my 20th week of pregnancy and the fact that next year, I’ll will be a mother.

Despite the overwhelming joy I feel about becoming a mother (finally!), it has been marked by periods of profound sadness. You see, I underestimated the hardship of becoming a mother without a mother. And not just without any mother, but without my mom. I was always extremely grateful and understood how fortunate I was to have such an unbelievably kind, thoughtful, supportive, and unconditionally loving mom. Yet, now that I am on the precipice of becoming a mom myself, my perspective of my mom has changed and my gratitude has become more pronounced.

I always knew (or thought I knew) how much my mom loved me. Turns out, I hadn’t the slightest clue of the depths of her love and attachment. I didn’t fully understand her desire to protect me, provide the best for me, and defend me. Now, I am starting to comprehend the love of a mother. Although I have yet to meet our child, the love I feel for this tiny human is overwhelming, even scary at times. As my belly swells and the tap, tap, taps coming from within grow stronger, my love increases exponentially.

I cannot bear the thought of someone making my child sad or left out. I cannot imagine someone breaking my baby’s heart or causing extreme disappointment. But, it will happen because life happens. I cannot protect my child from every discomfort and heartache, and I can’t kill the people who inflict it. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to deal with it, somehow. It is this feeling that helps me understand my mom in a way I never could before. At the time, I could never fully comprehend how much I was loved. As I begin to assume the role of mom I am in awe and so thankful to have been loved so intensely.

I am also beginning to understand what a daunting task parenting is. For the past several months, and even years before, I often grappled with the question: “How will I be as good of a mom as she was to me?” I used to ask my mom that as well and she always said “You will.”

The relationship she cultivated between us is truly inspiring. I’m not just saying that because I was part of it, even outsiders would comment on our love, respect, and mutual admiration for one another. She was always a mom first, but somehow managed to be my best-friend, my confidant, and an opinion I sought out and respected. And, the fact that she managed to do this starting out as a 15-year-old is that much more awe-inspiring and intimidating.

For months now, I’ve thought about how she did this, how did she establish and maintain such an incredible relationship with me? Finally, a few days ago, the answer came to me: She did it by being herself.

She did it by being open and honest. By being funny and fierce. She did it by balancing selflessness and selfishness. Juggling work and family. She did by prioritizing her marriage. She did it by fostering independence. By not letting me get away with shit and by loving me in spite of the shit.

She did it by doing what she knew how to do best: be herself. She was one of the most authentic people I knew. She was unabashed about who she was, and she had every right to be because she was amazing.

By realizing this, I know that I have all I need inside of me to become a great mother because I am my mother’s daughter. She’s in my laughter, in the way I love (and dislike) fiercely, in the way I’d defend a loved one to the death, in the way I try to make a house a home, in the way I love others, in the way I am content with myself, and most importantly in the way I love this new life inside of me.

Although it breaks my heart that my child will never meet my mom, I am confident that my baby will know her because she is so tightly woven into the fabric of who I am. This is a gift so great that a simple “thank you” seems to undermine the depths of my appreciation, but I know no other way to express my gratitude for the gift of my mom’s unconditional love and how through that she prepared me so well to love my own child.

So, on this sixth Mother’s Day without you, Mom, I want to say thank you. Thank you for giving me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received—your love. I am humbled by your generosity and the good fortune I have of sharing your love, my love, our love with our newest family member.

We love you to the moon, back, and all around.

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Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: A few weeks ago my wife’s best-friend passed away. They had been friends since high school and were like sisters. Since her passing, my wife has fallen into a deep depression. Nothing I do or say seems to help. How can I help her cope with this loss?

Clueless Spouse

Dear Clueless: First, let me commend you for recognizing the profound loss your wife is experiencing. Too often, people overlook the loss of a friend, but for many losing a friend is the equivalent to losing a family member.

It has only been a few weeks since her passing and your wife may just be beginning to feel the reality and permanence of her loss. The best thing you can do is be there for her. Do not try to “fix” the problem, simply help her cope however she needs to. For many women, feeling heard and perceiving that their partner is there to support them is very meaningful. Additionally, given that losing a friend isn’t often recognized as the profound event it is in larger society, your wife will be grateful that you understand the gravity of her loss.

To show her she has your full support, explicitly ask her how she is feeling about losing her friend and then listen to her response. When she talks, validate and legitimize her feelings by saying things like “I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you,” or “You were friends for a long time and it must hurt not having her here.” Also, don’t underestimate the power of a hug. If she just needs to cry, be a shoulder to lean on. Although it seems almost second nature, don’t say things like “It’s going to be okay” or “You have other friends.” Simply be there. Finally, encourage your wife to share stories about her best-friend and their friendship, this will allow her to celebrate her memory and stay connected to her friend.

However, if your wife does not show any signs of improvement in a few months, I would suggest speaking with a grief counselor who can provide her with the tools to navigate this difficult transition.

Dear Sylvia: Recently, I attended by sister-in-law’s baby shower. I traveled a few hundred miles to be there and I put a lot of thought, effort, and money into the gift I selected. A few weeks later a thank-you card arrived in the mail. When I opened it, it was a maternity picture of her with a generic, pre-printed thank you message. No personal message or mention of my travels or gift.  I was stunned and hurt. Should I say something to my sister-in-law or just chalk it up to “baby brain”?

Disgruntled Gift Giver

Dear Disgruntled: You’re preaching to the choir. I also hate these types of thank you cards, but I guess you can be grateful that you even received a thank you card and in a timely fashion, I might add. However, when people take time out of their schedule to attend an event or give a gift, I think the guest of honor can be bothered to write a few sentences of gratitude, “baby brain” or not.

Although you may be hurt, I wouldn’t rain on your sister-in-law’s parade. Instead, set an example by sending thoughtful notes when you’re on the receiving end. If that doesn’t get the message across, then follow her lead on the next gift giving occasion. A card with just a signature and a generic gift card would probably do the trick.

Dear Sylvia: I recently moved across the country for a job. My significant other stayed behind, for now, because she couldn’t find a job out here. Although we’ve only been apart for a few months, our relationship is starting to feel strained. What can we do to make sure that distance makes the heart grow fonder?

Long-distance Lover

Dear Lover: Ah, the long distance relationship—a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a physical separation affords you autonomy and the ability to pursue individual interests, which can enhance your relationship. On the other hand, the distance makes maintaining closeness and intimacy more difficult.  Thanks to new media technologies, such as Skype and text messaging, it’s easier to stay connected even when you are miles apart.

When you’re apart you miss out on the mundane things in one another’s lives, so it’s important to keep each other updated about those things. Send a quick text when something funny happens in a meeting, or send her a picture of the new lunch spot you think she’d love. Also, don’t forget to let her know you’re thinking of her throughout the day. A quick, email letting her know you’re thinking of her is sure to put a smile on her face.

Staying in contact during the day also puts less pressure on you to have a long, in-depth conversation every night. However, when you do chat, even if it’s just for a few minutes, try to use Skype or FaceTime. Seeing each other will not only help you feel connected, but will eliminate miscommunication by allowing you to see one another’s nonverbals.

Maintaining your long-distance relationship by paying attention to the little things will help you stay connected and allow you to pick up right where you left off once you’re reunited.

Have a relationship question? Submit it to “Sylvia Says.” All submissions are anonymous and any potentially identifying information is altered. 

The Mis(sed) Carriage

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I was never aware of this day until my husband and I, unfortunately, became members of this club. I write about this today not to gain sympathy, but to bring awareness to this very real and painful experience that many people overlook and even ignore. In our culture, grief and negative emotions are avoided. Since my own loss I’ve learned that miscarriage tends to be a four-letter word; people do not like to hear or talk about others’ miscarriages.

Although I recognize that people may avoid this topic because it’s uncomfortable, imagine losing your child, your hopes and dreams, and having no one to turn to or talk to—that’s uncomfortable. Today, I write for all the mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, and siblings who have suffered this unimaginable heartbreak. This is not only to honor them and their angel babies, but help their social networks learn how they can help them cope with this unbearable heartache.

My Story…

On June 3, 2012 two lines appeared on my home pregnancy test: I was pregnant, again. Given our previous ectopic pregnancy, we were tentative in our excitement even when blood tests indicated things were moving in the right direction. Two weeks later an ultrasound showed a little ball firmly implanted in my uterus, heartbeat and all. At that point, the doctor said my chance of miscarriage was reduced to around 10%. We started to feel some joy.

Even during week 10, when a spotting scare sent us to the emergency room, two ultrasounds showed our little monkey moving and shaking, complete with limbs, nose, and jaw bone. When we heard the heartbeat via Doppler at 12 weeks, we felt reassured—this was going to work, we were going to have our baby.

According to statistics, once you hear the heartbeat through a Doppler your chance of miscarrying is down to 1%. One-percent! Only one person out of 100 goes on to miscarry at that point; surely, we were in the clear. Sadly, one week later, on August 6, 2012, we discovered we were 1 in 100. The odds were never in our favor and we lost our baby. We lost our child, our dreams for the future, our ticket to join the parent club. We were, once again, outsiders looking in.

Because my body didn’t show any signs of miscarrying on its own and I was 12 ½ weeks along, the doctor recommended a D&C. The next afternoon with heavy hearts we made our way to the hospital. Of course, on our way in we saw a family exiting with Baby Girl balloons; oh, irony. During all the hubbub of pre-op, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists fluttered about cheerfully, asking us what brought us to the area, and making polite small talk. I tried my best to play along. Finally, right before I was wheeled off to the operating room, the nurse who was assisting with the procedure kindly whispered to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and that is when I lost it. My thin eyelids, swollen from crying through the night before, couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.

I was only supposed to be under twilight, but eventually they had to put me fully under because I was moving too much. They never said why, but given the doctors tenderness afterwards, I’m guessing my sobs, even while unconscious, got in the way of the procedure. Grief that profound cannot be contained.

In the days and weeks that followed, I learned a lot about not only myself, but others as well. The day we found out about our loss, my first phone call was to my best-friend. I texted her first to prepare her and when I called I tried to ask her how she was doing, but she didn’t let me get away that easily. Instead, she did exactly what I needed her to do, she cried with me and let me sit silently, choking on my own tears. I have never been more grateful for that kind of love and friendship.

Friends sent flowers, cookies, and books that helped them with their losses. Others who came to visit brought us delicious goodies, made us laugh with their goofiness, and distracted us with crazy shenanigans. These friends also let us steer any conversation to our loss, if needed, and when we did, which was often, they simply listened.

Others, however, seemed too uncomfortable with the situation to make a real effort. Although that hurt, we also understood that most people simply do not know what to do or say, so instead of doing the wrong thing they do nothing at all. And instead of telling people what we needed, we waited for people to reach out and silently suffered.

Today, I share my story to shed more light on this taboo topic.  Unlike the loss of a parent or spouse, the loss of a pregnancy does not come with scripts for how to cope. Thus, many of us (the bereaved would-be parents) and family and friends don’t know what to do or say. Below, I offer a few tips to help all of those who suffered a loss and those whose loved ones have suffered a loss, traverse this incredibly uncertain time as best as possible.

Healing After a Loss…

Grieve: You didn’t lose a shoe or your watch, you lost a child, you lost a life. Give yourself time to grieve, time to be sad, time to be angry, time to be numb, time to just be. Even though you may never have met your baby or only knew him or her for a few short hours doesn’t mean you are not entitled to fully grieve the loss of your child.

Be kind to yourself in the days and weeks that follow and do what feels good to you. If lounging around the house feeling blue is what you need, do it. If getting out of town and going on a trip will help, book it.

Also, don’t push yourself to do things that may be emotionally painful. If going to a baby shower or hanging out with a group of friends with children will just hurt too much, pass on the invitation. Your friends will understand that you need to heal.

Talk (if and when you want): Unfortunately, miscarriage is a taboo topic and many people never talk about it. One reason is that some people may feel that a loss is private and may only share their experience with their spouse and a few select friends/family. If other people ask you about your loss and you don’t want to discuss it, feel free to change the subject or give an indirect response.

Other individuals who experience loss want to talk about it but don’t because they want to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable. If you want to talk about your loss, do it. The more you keep silent on this issue, the more taboo it becomes. Plus, once you open up you may find that others have experienced losses too and they can be a great source of comfort.

Bottom line: Share based on your comfort level, not others.

Celebrate your baby:Just because you don’t have a baby in your arms doesn’t mean you have to forget about the life you lost. Celebrating your baby through stories, rituals, or mementos will you help you cope with your loss and celebrate the memory of your little angel.

Whether you plan something special for your due date, or hold a memorial on the day of your loss, do what feels right for you. A necklace with your baby’s birthstone, a framed picture of your ultrasound, or a tree planted in your yard are all wonderful ways to  honor, celebrate, and remember your child.

Helping Loved Ones Heal After a Loss

Ask:Nobody likes to talk about dead babies, I get it. But, you have to. You have to ask your friend how they’re doing. Even if your friend doesn’t want to talk, they’ll always remember whether or not you were there for them when they needed you most.

Also, don’t forget about Dads or the non-pregnant partner. Their grief often gets eclipsed by the mothers’ needs. Ask them how they are coping with the loss.

But, don’t ask “why” or “how”: Do not ask them for details about how they found out, what exactly the doctor said, or if they know why this happened. Someone dealing with a loss probably has many of the same questions you do and none of the answers. Asking questions may, unintentionally, imply some sort of blame or may make your friend feel inadequate for not knowing the answer. If your friend wants to share these details they will, so let them share in their own time.

Also, although you mean well, don’t say things like, “it’s God’s plan” (even if you believe that), that it “will happen if they just relax and stop trying”, “at least you know you can get pregnant,” or “hey, you already have a baby.”

None of this helps or takes away the pain of losing a child. If you don’t know what to say then follow the next tip.

Listen: Often, we feel that we must come up with the perfect thing to say to help our friend feel better or to take away their pain. Although that is a wonderful sentiment, nothing you can say or do can fully relieve their heartache.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, don’t say anything. Just be there to listen to your friend talk. Additionally, if you don’t know what to say let them know that you don’t know what to say, but that you’re thinking of them.

Follow-up: Coping with a loss takes some time. Expected milestones, holidays, and due dates will undoubtedly reignite or intensify your friend’s grief. Check-in during the following weeks and months, especially when your friend would have been reaching certain milestones.

~

Experiencing pregnancy loss is never easy. However, taking care of yourself and receiving support from loved ones can make you feel comforted as your heart slowly begins to heal.

A Blue Christmas?: Managing Grief During the Holidays

“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on that.” The words of this timeless Christmas song are haunting when a loved one isn’t home for the holidays because they are no longer physically with you. Whether this is your first Christmas or your fifteenth without a loved one, as many of you know, the pain still lingers.

Like me, you probably cope fairly well with your loss throughout the year then suddenly find yourself overcome with sadness come the holidays. One reason for this surge of sorrow is the fact that holiday rituals are closely linked to family identity. When these rituals are altered or, unfortunately, abandoned it highlights the fact that your loved one is no longer with you, and even calls into question who you are as a family.

This year marks my fourth Christmas without my mom. Despite the time that has lapsed, I still yearn for holidays past when we hosted elaborate Christmas dinners and spent hours together in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and cleaning, all the while laughing. I still miss her excitement on Christmas morning as she lit the Christmas tree and turned up the carols, even when I was in my late-twenties and my now husband joined us for his very first Mikucki-Christmas. I still get choked up knowing that her stocking will not be hung by the chimney with care, and when people ask what I want for Christmas I quietly think to myself: my mom.

Although it may seem that I have a very blue Christmas because of my mom’s absence, it is not (entirely) the case. Over the years, I’ve found numerous ways to celebrate her throughout the holidays. And although I do have at least one breakdown every season (last year it was on a treadmill at the gym!), I try to use her love of all things Christmas as inspiration for making my holidays cheery and bright.

Whether this is your first holiday without a loved one or you’re, unfortunately, a seasoned pro, the holidays can be full of mixed emotions. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and do what feels right for you and your family.

So, what can you do to cope with missing a loved one during the holidays?

Acknowledge your feelings: Research suggests that it’s important to acknowledge your grief and mixed emotions about the upcoming holiday. If you suppress these emotions and act like all is well you may not fully cope with your grief, regarding that holiday, until years later. Don’t suppress your emotions, embrace them. Know that it is okay to feel sad and miss your loved one. It is completely normal to face the holidays with trepidation rather than cheer following a loss. Knowing that the holidays will be rough will help you set realistic expectations.

Do what feels right: The first holiday without a loved one is especially rough, so celebrate that first holiday in whatever way makes you feel good. If ditching the annual Christmas potluck and going on a vacation works for you, do it! Or, if staying at home watching old home movies with a few family members makes you feel better, go for it!

Or, have a Plan A and a Plan B and wait until the day of to decide which plan to enact. Plan A might be joining the family for the traditional feast. Plan B might be going to your loved one’s favorite restaurant with a small group. If you wake up on Christmas day and want to be surrounded by family, then go with Plan A. But, if the day is too much to deal with, go with Plan B.  The key is celebrate those first holidays in whatever way will get you through it. Take it from me!

A few weeks after my mom passed away Easter arrived. Mistakenly, we hosted Easter. That day was long and miserable as we played host while trying to cope with our fresh feelings of grief and the missing presence of my mom. As a result, we decided to do something radically different for Christmas. Christmas was one of my mom’s favorite holidays and the thought of celebrating it that first year without her was unbearable. So, we left for Colorado on Christmas day. Being away from the traditional holiday gathering allowed us to deal with our grief as an immediate family and we didn’t have to play host or put on a happy face.

Don’t act tough: Whether or not you end up participating in a traditional holiday celebration, don’t apologize for feeling emotional. It is OKAY to cry, to get upset, and to be sensitive. Don’t hide your tears or pretend that nothing is wrong. If it makes other people uncomfortable, oh well! Hopefully individuals you are celebrating with are compassionate and supportive as you go through the ups and downs of holiday grief. I get teary eyed at least once (minimum!) throughout the day on both Christmas Eve and Christmas (and a million times leading up to those days!).

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room: Often, family or friends will avoid talking about the deceased love one in a misguided effort to protect you. However, most people enjoy talking about their loved one. In fact, research shows that individuals not only love talking about deceased family members, but also enjoy being surrounded by their artifacts.Sharing stories or recounting memories is a great way to stay connected to your loved one. So share your favorite Christmas memory or funny story.

Every time I tell my husband about how my mom would take bites out of the cookies I left for Santa and wrote a beautiful, handwritten note for me “from” Santa every Christmas morning, I am transported back to my childhood and can feel my mom’s arms wrapped around me.

In addition, if you know someone who is missing a loved one during the holidays ask them to share their favorite Christmas memory or story of that person. They will appreciate the support and the chance to celebrate the memory of their loved one.

Incorporate your loved one into the celebration: As time passes it often becomes easier to celebrate the life and memory of your loved one, and you can do this in ways big or small. Display a cherished holiday decoration that was your loved ones, make their favorite recipe, or donate items or volunteer your time to their favorite organization. My Papa’s Christmas star adorns our Christmas tree every year, and my mom’s cherished snowmen are scattered around the house. I can’t help but smile and feel connected to the both of them when I look at their items and the memories they evoke.  

The holidays can be an extremely trying time. It’s important to take care of yourself and celebrate your loved one in a way that is appropriate and meaningful to you.

Also, remember that your loved one is always with you, as Nancy Tillman writes in her book “Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You:”

And if someday you’re lonely,

or someday you’re sad,

or you strike out at baseball,

or think you’ve been bad…

just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.

That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.

 

In the green of the grass…in the smell of

the sea…in the clouds floating by…

at the top of a tree…in the sound

crickets make at the end of the day…

 

“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.

 

Until next time,

Sylvia

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My mother loves my two-year old, but she is incredibly overbearing and often tells me how to parent. She insists on coming to his doctor’s appointments with me then takes over the appointments with her questions; I can barely get a word in! I love her and I know she loves my child, but I want to have more independence in my parenting.  How can I talk to her about this?

—-Dissed Daughter

Dear Dissed: Having an involved mother/grandmother is wonderful, to a point. It seems that you and your mother need to work on establishing and respecting boundaries. It’s important that you address this issue now before it continues to escalate. However, if you’ve never had boundaries with her before this conversation will be difficult.

Tell your mom that you appreciate her interest in your child, but you feel that she doesn’t trust you or think you’re a good parent when she meddles in your parenting. Then let her know that you need more independence to become a great parent just like she was (flattery will get you everywhere!). In addition, start setting boundaries with your mother. Don’t tell her about an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or if she does know tell her that you will be going alone, end of story. It may take some tough love, but soon she’ll realize that you’re the mom not her.

Dear Sylvia: My younger sister passed away about six months ago. This is our first Christmas without her.  My parents and I planned to “cancel” Christmas this year and just have a small celebration with our immediate family. This has outraged our extended family who says we’re just being selfish because now they won’t have anywhere to go (my parents always host Christmas). How do we handle our first holiday without our loved one without starting a family feud?

—-Not the Grinch

Dear Not: My sincere condolences to you and your family. And, shame on your extended family for being so insensitive to your and your family’s needs. Although every holiday without a loved one is difficult, the first holiday is especially rough. You and your immediate family should spend this day however you see fit. If sitting at home in your PJs watching your sister’s favorite Christmas movies is what you want to do, go for it! Or, if heading out of town to avoid all the hoopla is what you need then book your ticket! Do not feel that you should entertain others or that you have to put on a happy face so they have a place to go on Christmas. Tell them to dust off their roasting pans because they’ve got a lot of cooking to do. Your only responsibility is to celebrate your sister’s memory and be kind to yourself.

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