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Celebrating and Surviving Milestones

Celebrating and Surviving Milestones

From the moment I first held that pregnancy test in my hand, my heart was filled with dreams for my son’s childhood–one that I hoped would be filled with love, laughter, and plenty of family traditions. I envisioned the milestones to come: his first birthday, his first day of school, his high school graduation. My dreams were shattered into a million pieces when our precious firstborn baby was born prematurely and succumbed to a fatal genetic condition at just 93-minutes old. The milestones that I once looked forward to with such joy and excitement were now anticipated with such deep sorrow. Three years later and my heart aches each time kindergarten enrollment begins, and I often find myself blinking back tears as I count down the years until Ethan’s class will start school.

The loss of a baby has a way of changing a simple date on the calendar into a point in time that feels so significant and so heavy with a wide spectrum of emotions. How can we face the due dates, the birthdays, and the milestones that now feel so bittersweet?

As we approached Ethan’s first birthday, I reached out to my friends within the loss community for ideas of ways to spend the day and received plenty of great ideas for celebrating and surviving milestones.  

Throw a bash

One of my loss mama friends throws a birthday party for her son each year. Through the years, this tradition has been a great way to celebrate her son’s life with friends both new and old. Some party ideas include a butterfly release, cake and icecream, showing a slideshow, and/or selecting a theme that reminds you of your baby.

Give back

Several of my sisters-in-loss commemorate special dates each year by lending a helping hand in their baby’s honor. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as volunteering at a local charity, hosting a Random Act of Kindness day, donating memory boxes through Forever Footprints, or making a contribution to an organization that has had a positive impact in their life (at Forever Footprints, you can personalize a fundraising page with your families story to make it more personal). Here are some suggestions for ways to give back

Take time to reflect

Whether you prefer to have a quiet day or one filled with plenty of activity, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself. Go to the cemetery, look through photos and special mementos, take a walk, and/or listen to songs that remind you of your baby. Turn off your phone if you need to. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are met with–whether the day makes you smile, cry, or both.

In my experience, there is no one-size-fits all approach to celebrating and surviving milestones. Free yourself of any pressure to face the day in a particular way. In the first year after Ethan died, I felt pressure to celebrate milestones with grand gestures–I wanted to show the world just how much I loved him. Yet at the same time, I craved a day to myself. It took me some time to accept the fact that, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with grand gestures, Ethan didn’t need that from me. My love for him was undeniable and he was at perfect peace regardless of whether I threw a big party or spent the day alone. That first year, my husband and I each took the day off work, visited the cemetery, ate dinner at Del Taco (I couldn’t get enough Del Taco during my pregnancy with Ethan), and shared a small smash cake at home. We needed a quiet day together that year. However, by the time Ethan’s second birthday arrived we wanted to get out and be around lots of people. What we have needed has changed year to year, and even day to day, and it may be the same for you. Give yourself permission to celebrate each milestone in the way that is best for your family.

And remember, no matter how you choose to spend the day, your baby knows nothing but love.

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to one baby on earth and five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

 

Main photo by David Ananda on Unsplash

5 Ways to Support a Friend Who Lost Their Baby

5 Ways to Support a Friend Who Lost Their Baby

“My friend just lost a baby and I’m at a loss of what to do or say. How can I be a support during this time?

I’m often asked this question by caring friends and family members who know someone who has recently lost their precious baby. If you’re asking yourself this same question today I want to start by saying thank you. Just the fact that you’d ask shows that you truly care.

The loss of a child is one of the deepest griefs to face and one of the most complicated to respond to. In those first few months after losing my newborn son I could hardly imagine what I needed, let alone articulate it to someone else. I’m so grateful for people like you who met us where we were at when we needed it the most. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, there were several things that my husband and I found especially helpful as we processed the loss of our newborn son.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the baby. I love it when people ask me about Ethan, or when they say his name out loud. Simply start by saying, “I’d love to hear more about [baby’s name] sometime” and be prepared to hear as much or as little as they feel comfortable sharing. Your loved one hasn’t forgotten their child, not even for a moment, and hearing or speaking their name is one of the greatest gifts a bereaved parent can receive. Consider remembering their baby’s legacy alongside them by joining them at Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember or by sponsoring a memory box or sibling backpack in their baby’s honor. Don’t worry about “reminding” them about something upsetting–They haven’t forgotten, no matter how much time has passed.

Remember important dates and milestones. Add their baby’s birth date, due date, or other significant milestones to your calendar and check in with your friend on those days. Brief texts of “Remembering [baby’s name] with you today” can mean so much as each month and milestone passes. Even those closest to us tend to move on with their lives after those first few weeks and, while we often understand, it means so much when people remember.

Offer to help. Even better, offer specific ways you can help. While a “let me know if I can do anything” certainly shows that you care (and definitely isn’t a bad thing to say), your friend may not have the energy to identify their needs or ask for help. Feel free to offer specifics based on your unique abilities. “Can I bring you a meal on Tuesday night?” or “How about I watch the kids on Saturday?” can mean so much. Connection with other loss parents can also be helpful–offer to connect them with someone you know who has also lost a baby or refer them to a Forever Footprints Support Group.

Continue to include them. There were days when when we needed to be alone, yet others when we craved normalcy and a day with friends or family was just what we needed. While it was difficult for me to navigate crowded social gatherings or to be near young children in those first few months, it meant a lot to to be invited and to have the opportunity to accept or decline. While everything had changed, I needed to still feel like myself sometimes.

Don’t worry about finding the perfect thing to say. Accept the fact that nothing you can say will “fix” your grieving loved one’s pain–and that is okay. We know you would do anything to find those perfect words if you could. Well-meaning phrases such as “it was for the best” or “they’re in a better place” can feel hurtful or confusing, especially in those first few months. Your friend or loved one doesn’t expect you to have all of the answers. One of the most helpful things someone said to me after Ethan died was, “I’m so sorry. I wish I knew what to say.” To them it probably felt as if their words fell flat, but to me it was refreshing. Simply acknowledge their pain and sit with them for a moment. Give yourself the freedom to not do or say the “perfect” thing. Your presence and your caring heart mean more than you know.

 

Kristin HernandezKristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

 

*Top photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

To the bereaved father, on Father’s Day

To the bereaved father, on Father’s Day

Last year, my husband told me that he didn’t feel the need to be celebrated on Father’s Day since he didn’t have a living child. His announcement didn’t come from a place of anger or even apathy–he was simply stating a fact. He truly did not see any reason to be recognized and was okay with that. While I knew he was satisfied with this arrangement, I couldn’t help but think of just how worthy he was to be recognized for the incredible dad he is–despite how different his day-to-day life may appear when compared with other parents. Bereaved dads are top-notch fathers, often giving their all with little to no recognition from the outside world.

But we see you, dads. As partners, we see you and we celebrate you even when the world forgets.

We saw the way your heart overflowed with love and pride the first time you heard your baby’s heartbeat. We saw the way you supported us through morning sickness, discomforts, and a wide spectrum of emotions. We saw the way you faithfully stood by our side, as friends, family, doctors, nurses, and even strangers showered endless attention on the mom-to-be.

We saw the way your heart broke when that precious heartbeat stopped. We saw the way you asked the doctors questions and selfishly advocated for our needs, as our world stopped spinning and we crumbled beneath the weight of grief. We saw the way you strongly held us up when we felt so weak–and we know you were hurting just as deeply.

As friends, family, doctors and nurses continued to shower us with endless support and attention, it was you who remained our biggest cheerleader. For months, you selflessly responded as buddies and coworkers continued to ask “How’s your wife?” Though you were equally affected, even if in different ways, you never made it about you.

We see the way you protect and provide for us each day. We see the way you move through your day, often unrecognized as the incredible partner and father that you are. There are few men more admirable nor more selfless than you. While you may not crave the recognition, we cannot imagine anyone else more deserving than you. To all of the bereaved dads parenting babies they can no longer hold, we celebrate you not just today but every day. Happy Father’s Day–we appreciate you more than words can say.

Forever Footprints invites you to attend the annual OC Golf to Remember Tournament, July 12, 2018 at 11am at Oak Creek Golf Course in Irvine. To register or receive more information visit http://www.foreverfootprints.org/remembrance/events/oc-golf-to-remember/.

 

Kristin Hernandez

Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family.  Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.

 

*Header photo by Benedicto de Jesus on Unsplash