So yesterday at the grocery store I saw the frozen breakfast sandwiches I used to eat on sale. I got burned out of them somewhere around Christmas, and stopped buying them. I figured enough time had passed that I could try them again.
I didn’t anticipate when I bit into it this morning that I’d have a flashback so visceral that it would actually bring me to tears.
Back when I was still eating these, we were trying to get pregnant. Kurt and I were just a couple months out on the wedding, my cycle charts were looking really good, and my doctor was still saying things like, “Don’t call me until there’s a line on the stick!”
We never really know what will take us back in time faster than a DeLorean at 88 miles per hour. Sometimes it’s a season change. Going into a restaurant long avoided. Shrugging on last winter’s coat. The smell of apple pie.
For me, that sandwich was the taste of anticipation and hope, something I lost many months ago, when the sticks never produced a line. I finally gave up last spring and scheduled a long-pushed-off surgery, one that required me to have my tubes tied. No babies for us, not anymore.
I didn’t finish the muffin.
Adoption is in our future, and we’re hopeful there too. It’s a daunting process, and one we’re doing our best to rearrange our lives for. We still have many months to wait, as unlike with your own babies, when you can get started any time you like, most adoption agencies require us to be married two years.
I hope this next year finds us in a better place on the family front, and maybe by the next time fall rolls around, I’ll be able to eat egg and cheese sandwiches again.
So many projects have sprung up based on my new book, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Right now, I’m working on a joint effort of the book trailer and Project Butterfly, a social media movement to place butterflies on the pages of families who have lost babies to show you haven’t forgotten their little ones.
I had a half-dozen friends help me hand-cut the paper butterflies. Then I sprayed them, added the names, and we have begun the process of stringing them to prepare for the scene where Corabelle, the main character, walks through them as she did in the novel.
The book won’t be out until Oct. 1, but here is a hint of the scene we will be portraying in the video. Corabelle has told Gavin, who left her four years ago during their baby’s funeral, that she can’t see him again. This is one of the ways he tries to get her back.
The blinds to my living room window were closed, so I carefully pushed a couple of the slats aside.
Unbelievable. I stepped back a minute to blink, then looked again.
In the trees outside my door, hundreds of colored paper butterflies hung from the branches. Their wings glittered in the sunlight, winking, the wires so thin as to almost be invisible, as though an entire flock of them had chosen this moment to breeze by my window.
I ran to the front door and wrenched it open so I could see it better. That’s when I noticed the neighbors walking through the butterflies and touching their sparkling bodies.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” An older woman I’d seen a few times cupped a bright blue one in her palm.
A younger girl in a red beret saw me and smiled. “They lead to your door.” She pointed behind her. “See, there’s just a few up there, and then they get thicker as we get closer to you.”
She held one close to her face. “These are all hand cut.” She glanced over at me. “Whoever did this for you spent a lot of time on it.”
I moved up the path again. White butterflies with iridescent sparkle gave way to pale blues, then pinks and gentle yellows, moving to minty greens and lavenders that shifted to plum and fuchsia and deep red and sapphire. I caught a movement at the corner of the building and we all turned to it. Gavin stepped out, as beautiful as I’d ever seen him, fresh and combed and wearing a crisp button-down shirt loose over khaki shorts.
My breath caught and the women murmured their appreciation as he came toward me, holding out his hands with another butterfly, a lovely, opulent eggshell blue. “One more,” he said and handed it to me by the slender wire. “For Finn.”
He held my hand as we both lifted it to the branch closest to the door and tied it around the slender limb. The other women moved away as I brought my palms to my hot cheeks. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll spend the day with me.” He backed away, giving me space.
The setting was like a fairy tale, Gavin, looking so much like he had in high school, the trees and morning sun striking the glittering butterflies. A breeze wafted through, shifting the strings and making the bits of color dance among the falling leaves. I nodded; what else could I do? Each of these moments were new wonders, memories I could hold on to. Even if it all fell apart later, we would have this.
Now that Emily is in high school, I think I have a better idea of what life would be like with Casey. He’d be getting his learner’s permit, and the shrieks heard ’round the world would be me, hands on the dashboard, eyes squeezed shut or open wide, as we careened along side streets. (I always picture him as a dare devil.)
But I have to admit that as time passes, I feel less connected to the kid Casey might have been. We can imagine babies in all their temperaments — cranky or calm, excitable or chill. But a mostly grown boy can be so many things. Athlete. Gamer geek. Gregarious. Shy. Friendly. Quiet. So many shades between. He is unknowable, forever a collection of white blips on a black background, a shape in the dark.
It’s not often that I think of him with sorrow anymore. Casey is the name of my mission, my life’s work, the purpose handed to me from my first-born. He becomes ever-abstract, a dividing line in my history.
But today is not one of those days. Once again he becomes a baby, and today is the day that we might have celebrated his arrival. And the future I would have had with him is as unknowable as he is to us.
I’m super excited about the launch of my new novel Forever Innocent, a blend of baby loss story and contemporary new adult romance! As we get the countdown to Oct. 1 started, I’m giving away a very fun prize pack:
A $50 gift card to any store of your choosing
A crystal butterfly USB flash drive necklace preloaded with the ebook to Forever Innocent
If you get a chance to read the book, you’ll discover the importance of butterflies in the story — it’s a symbol many families associate with their angel babies.
So enter and win — you can come back and Tweet the giveaway as many times as you want!
I first learned about October 15 in 2007. I posted a hurried message about it, encouraging proud angel mamas to spread the word and light their candles at 7 p.m. their time. I didn’t know a lot about the day or the founder, but I knew it was a good thing, the sort of big event I was looking for.
My own web site was already nine years old, the time when you start to try and shake up what has become routine. I wanted to keep growing and moving us forward. I remember feeling frustration (and I still do) that mothers felt they had to “hide” their losses and that talking about their babies was still such a taboo. We’d gotten nowhere.
And along came Robyn Bear and her site for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. She and a team of volunteers took the measure to the legislatures of all fifty states and got it passed federally as well. I was amazed at their effort and the years they spent making this happen.
Naturally I reached out to Robyn pretty quickly. Someone with that much staying power, already seven years post-loss and still going strong, was going to be a big part of the baby loss community. Turns out, she was also very generous and friendly.
This year I decided ENOUGH, and packed my family in the car and drove four hours to where Robyn lives to deliver a box of books she had ordered from me personally. We had lunch in a little restaurant in her home town, and she was amazingly just as wonderful as I thought she would be!
Our miracles babies (okay, tweens and teens) sat at one end, and the husbands chatted about work and weather, while we reviewed our two journeys through loss and the determination to actually get involved in the lives of other grieving mothers, and to carve businesses from this so that we could continue working with the community full-time.
I think our partnership in making sure the needs of baby loss moms are met has only grown stronger by meeting face to face. We may have our separate web sites and support groups, and she may focus on Oct. 15 candle lightings as well as remembrance items and jewelry (and man, does she find some beautiful stuff), while I focus on books and information and support groups, but we are definitely united in one thing — making sure women facing these impossible losses have a place to go, a community to talk to, and ways to memorialize and remember their babies.
I see a day twenty years from now when we’re little old ladies, and still holding the virtual hands of the young women who need us. We’re here for the long haul. We’re here for all of you. I can’t imagine a more perfectly suited partner or a more beautiful person, inside and out.
I’m not a television watcher whatsoever. I’m often clueless about major TV events. I never saw a single episode of Survivor or The Office or even Friends.
But Glee had such an intense online push that even a small-screen luddite like me had to notice. It showed up in my Facebook sidebar, on banner ads, invading my web space. Finally, I clicked.
And I was hooked. The concept was amazing and the pilot spot-on perfect. I was reminded of my own days teaching high school and admiring the amazing talent that sometimes came through my doors.
Cory Monteith played a character that fit him. He did not come to the show with mega-singing chops. He was everyman, and watching him perform with a talent like Lea Michele made us all feel as though any of us could hold our own on stage.
Learning that someone like Cory died so young breaks my heart. I’ve enjoyed reliving some of my favorite Gleek days, in particularly this one below. I remember how hard I cried my head off during this episode when Cory’s character Finn has been told he will be a father, and he sings to this sonogram.
Today, watching it again, I realize how full-circle my Glee fandom has come. Fans of my upcoming book Forever Innocent voted Finn as the name of the baby in the story, which features a young high school father much like Cory’s character, trying to do the right thing by his girlfriend and his son, but messes up spectacularly. This song and this moment was just perfect, so I share it with you all one more time.
I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable during your exercise regimen, really.
See, I got up today and things were so totally normal. 6:20 alarm. Made lunches for my two girls. Set out outfits. Got Child 2 to show choir rehearsal. Got Child 1 to the bus. Tracked down missing item for talent show and took it up to school.
I mean, all was well, right? I arrived at the running path and set off like normal.
Except that at some point, 2 miles in, everything went wrong. One minute I’m zipping along, darting around muddy spots, and the next minute I’m bent over, sobbing my fool head off.
People of the Trail, I know this was disconcerting. I beelined for a bench, a little off to one side. I meant to sit ON the bench, really, but missed and ended up sitting in the mud with my head in my arms.
I’m sorry that it might have caused you concern.
See, today is a little harder than I’m letting on. Today Child 2 gets yanked from school, taken to the hospital, and wired up again. She is taking this too well, with a little too much shrug in her shoulders, and I hate that her sunny little life has gone so gray this year. Anti-seizure meds not working? Shrug. Failing school? Shrug. Hates her practical hair cut for the wires? Shrug. Missing the yearbook staff party, the culmination of a year’s work? Shrug.
Maybe I was crying for her, for the kid who didn’t really deserve all this disaster, who got a “bucket” from her fifth-grade class yesterday that was full of “You’re nice and kind to EVERYONE” and “Great smile, britens my day.”
But among the people trying to keep their pace up and avoid the crazy crying woman, there was that man, the one I’ve seen on the trail every day, and worried over actually. Seventy, easy, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and baggy khakis with a funny old-timey cap pulled low over his dark eyes. His sun-worn brown face always shifts into a big bright smile when we pass each other, his shabby Hush Puppy loafers shuffling in front of the other. “Buenos dias,” he always says with a nod. “Good morning,” I answer.
He thinks I didn’t know who he was when he walked up, but I knew his shoes, the pants, the shuffled step. I waited until he was gone and pulled myself together. He’d left a rose on the wet bench. When I looked either way on the trail, I didn’t see him.
I do what we do in these moments, pulled myself up and brushed dirt and wet mulch from my legs. I recognized the rose from the bushes in front of the bank, plucked, no doubt, but I had a feeling where this guy comes from, forgiveness is stored in buckets by the door.
Maybe you don’t believe in guardian angels, but I’m pretty sure I do now. Whether they are celestial beings or real people, doesn’t matter, but I know they are out there. And those of us going through whatever we are forced to endure, sometimes it just takes looking to see them, and sometimes it just takes having faith that they are there.
In late 2011 I joined the Kboards, an online forum that had become a hotbed of information for indie authors trying to make inroads in selling digital books. At the time, Amanda Hocking’s books were just about to hit brick-and-mortar stores, and everyone was abuzz with what was possible. Getting a traditional deal from indie sales was considered the pinnacle of success.
Fifteen months later, the world has turned upside down again. Many of the Kboarders I am friends with have turned DOWN traditional deals, raking in tens of thousands of dollars a month they know they couldn’t get from old-school publishers. Stories about rights grabs and bad contracts have made everyone skittish, and only a handful of literary agents have the indie seal of approval for truly caring about independent rights.
Into the mix comes Hugh Howey, the newest indie hero, about to start his US hardcover and paperback book tour after securing a landmark deal — after turning down dozens of publishers who wanted his digital rights, he signed a paper-only deal with Simon and Schuster.
Hugh is waking up in Austin today, and last night he met with my Austin Java writing group for a little down time before his US book tour gets grueling. He’s speaking at SXSW on Sunday and will launch his hardcover edition of Wool on Monday at BookPeople at 7 p.m.
It’s always a treat to meet in person someone you’ve only known online. Hugh got on my radar right away, as his little short story had just taken off and he was writing serial sequels as fast as he could in December 2011. As one of the personalities on the forum that other writers could appreciate and laugh with, his hilarious videos for milestones reminded us not to take the journey too seriously, including dancing in clown fish slippers when he hit 100 reviews in February 2012.
The 100-review landmark seems funny now that he has over 5000, but many of us watching Hugh’s rapid ascent were thrilled. If anyone could join the ranks of John Locke and Amanda Hocking and still come back to tell us about the highs and lows of the journey, Hugh could.
As he completed Wool and created an omnibus edition, he ordered paper copies of his new work I, Zombie. Live streaming video showed him opening boxes and signing the copies (sometimes in blood!) Hugh knew how to work a crowd, and his fan base went from appreciative to increasingly intense and ready to buy anything he offered up.
His journey hits an apex today as he is featured in the Wall Street Journal. When we talked last night over decaf, he said he kept thinking everything would slow down, but the sales and invitations and new heights just keep coming. He’d just gotten back to the States from Europe, and after a few weeks on the US tour, heads to Australia (where super fan and fellow KBoarder David Adams is anxious to meet him too!) No doubt if the film rights snapped up by Ridley Scott become an actual movie, Hugh will find himself on another wild ride.
If I’ve learned anything from my friendships on the KBoards, it’s how easily energy created in the digital world can translate to real life. Meeting someone like Hugh, whose journey I had followed for so long, and with whom I’d had numerous posting and commenting conversations with, was just an extension of the fun and sharing that happen in online communities.
And for those of us publishing digital books, Hugh is paving the way for our next journey — navigating from ebooks and pure independent control to one where we rely, at least in part, on publishers for the packaging and distribution of paper copies of our work. Hugh has paved the way, and it’s up to the rest of us to stand our ground for better rights and royalties. Because when it’s done right, when it’s done the way Hugh has managed to do it, we really are in control of our own destinies.
Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sometimes when I look around, I see a lot of lost people. Some are justifiably sad—tragedy is happening to them right now. Some have had past losses, and they look to those dark days as the reason why they are still living without joy.
Others are just taking life day by day, waiting for something, the One Big Thing they’ve always imagined, and regularly seem to sink when another night comes, and it hasn’t happened.
I had lost years myself. I spent my twenties in pursuit of nothing special. A whole decade of stumbling around, switching jobs, always wanting something else. The not-now. The better-down-the-road.
Then something big DID happen. Not a book deal or a lottery or sudden fame. The worst sort of thing. As I rolled down what would be considered an ordinary life—marriage-first-house-pregnancy, my baby died. Just died.
This is where my road divided. I had three choices:
- Feel stuck and bitter and grief stricken.
- Pretend it never happened and move forward.
- Turn this moment into my personal call to a life that mattered.
Everyone who is reading this blog knows what I did. I changed everything. Since then I’ve given speeches, run web sites, written books, and made myself as available as possible to any Baby Loss Mom who approached me. It’s been 14 years—coming up on 15 very soon and I haven’t slowed down one bit.
I was lucky. I recognized when life handed me a purpose. Loud and clear I got the message that this terrible event was the thing that could save me. And while I’d certainly trade my life now for the life I could have had with Casey, I made sure, absolutely sure, that I never doubted why I had been brought on this planet, and why he had, so briefly, made his small appearance.
I can tell you — there is a reason for you too. Somewhere in your life there has been or will be a Call to Action. My hope is that everyone sees it when it comes. And that it not only gets you through whatever is happening — life, death, poverty, oppression, bullying, loss, overwhelm — but that you grow so much from it that you expand and envelop others who can learn from what you have endured.
My wish is that you too can take your experiences and turn them into action, mold your life into a passion, review what you have survived and bring about change.
It’s in everyone. The tall and the small. Elizabeth is only ten and she gets it — she made her whole class study epilepsy last year and over half of them chose the Epilepsy Foundation as their non-profit to support in the community service. One purple scarf given to her last month means dozens more will be made in her Knitting Club to give to other kids.
Look around you. Look at yourself. Take what is difficult and turn it into good. Learn from what you did wrong and lift a stumbling block from someone else.
Be the change you’re looking for.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
While we were there, the Nurse Practicioner came in with several hand-made scarves in varying shades of purple, the color chosen for epilepsy awareness. “Pick one,” she said.
Elizabeth was shy about it, but eventually selected a simple solid purple scarf with an intricate weave. On it was a round sticker that read “The Purple Stitch Project.”
The meeting went on, about her sudden weight loss (10% of her body weight in three months), her sudden downturn in school (we sign failing papers almost daily), and her overall feeling of tiredness and well, just blues.
We’re not giving up on the medicine, as it’s the last one they’ll give us. We’ve been through others, and while sometimes they work for a while, the seizures return, often more frightening than the last. Elizabeth, now 10, has been medicated for three years. We’ve been through seizures in the swimming pool, at the top of playscapes, in restaurants, at parks, many at school, including one during a whole-school assembly.
Life isn’t easy.
But she held on to this scarf as we left, puzzling over the stitches. She had joined a knitting club last year and wondered how hard this particular pattern was to follow. I asked her if she wanted to make scarves for the Purple Stitch Project herself, and then she had the brainstorm that maybe the whole club would.
I wrote the mom who runs the club, who thought this was a fantastic idea–the girls making scarves as community service. They’re going to stock up on purple yarn when they start the club up again in the spring. The one scarf given to Elizabeth will keep on giving–both in providing gifts to other children with epilepsy, but also making sure the thing that makes her different from her friends is something they can talk about, to bring them together rather than set her apart.
I don’t know everything that goes on inside Elizabeth’s mind, the changes in weight and self-image, going from from manic energy to lethargy, from seeing the silver lining everywhere to feeling surrounded by doom, to doing well in school to having trouble concentrating on anything.
We do the best we can.
If you knit, we encourage you to join in. Make something purple and send it in to the Purple Stitch Project. The child who gets it just might be someone you know, someone like Elizabeth, who will take your one scarf and turn it into something much, much more.