On loss: The disappointing day that never was

caseyshay16weeksIf things had gone as planned with my pregnancy sixteen years ago, I would have one ticked off teenager right now.

For one thing, this would be just about the worst sixteenth birthday in the history of sixteenth birthdays. It’s supposed to be Independence Day #1, because in Texas, this is when he could have tested to receive his driver’s license.

But it’s a Saturday. The DMV isn’t even open.

To add to the insult, it’s raining nonstop.

I imagine a cranky boy joking and getting shoved by his friends as they shovel in cake. Looking out the window at the rain, wishing it weren’t a Saturday. The ONE TIME he finally gets a weekend birthday, and it’s the one he doesn’t want to be a weekend!

But these scenes are only in my mind. They aren’t happening. They will never happen.

He won’t drive a car. He didn’t even live to know cars existed. The only way he probably even knew his mother existed was a steady beat of sound that mirrored his own, a slow heavy thud that underscored the warbling muted voices through the walls that held him suspended in the only world he would ever know.

Happy Sweet Sixteen, Casey Shay, wherever your spirit resides these days.

[ More about Casey Shay ]

Why it’s hard to have a “happy” Mother’s Day


I generally don’t wake up on Mother’s Day to breakfast in bed or hand-colored cards.

I have five children, but they are not with me as this day begins. Here are all the reasons why:

  • My first-born, Casey Shay, died five months into my pregnancy.
  • My second and fourth, Emily and Elizabeth, are with their dad this morning, since we are divorced.
  • My third and fifth died early in the pregnancies.

I am lucky that I still have my mom. I know many of you no longer do.

And there are a lot of empty nesters who will make do with a phone call.

Some moms will visit their children’s graves today.

So I’m thinking of all of you whose Mother’s Day is not, never was, or no longer is that perfectly imagined day with little ones bringing you burnt toast and jumping on your pillows.

We still have something to celebrate. The moms and grandmothers who once held us tight.

The babies we carried, if only for a little while. Or the children we loved and raised as long as could.

It’s still an important day.

And I’m holding out my hand to you with love and understanding.

On those days that change your life for good

The first notable April 28 came in 1998, the day I learned my first baby had died.

I was teaching high school and the students were terribly excited to find out if I was having a boy or a girl. I was firmly instructed to call them on the journalism room phone the moment I knew. I only had a few more weeks to be with them, as I had resigned from my position to be a mom. School was almost out, and I wasn’t sure I would get back to teaching again (I never did.)

I didn’t call them. The sonogram showed a still baby, floating in his fluid. Lost to us.

We also had no answers. We just had to find the courage to do it again.

By April 28 of the next year, we had a baby girl, whose entrance to the world was stressful and constantly in question. But she arrived all the same, and just turned 15 a week ago. Her presence has made all the Aprils easier to bear.

By a strange collision of scheduling and timing, the next April 28 I was scheduled for surgery to correct my insides so that we could try to have a normal pregnancy in the future, without the risk of these late term losses, undersized babies, and such hardship. I remember distinctly the moment the nurses forced me to take off baby Casey’s memory bracelet, which I had worn daily for two years, and even during his sister’s birth by c-section. I cried all the way until the anesthesia knocked me out.

In April 2002, I was crazy pregnant with another girl. This pregnancy had not gone any more smoothly, a set of twins with one miscarrying at ten weeks. The other, Elizabeth, seemed fine. We would not learn until she was six that she would face challenges based on her time in the womb. They tried to schedule her c-section for April 28 and got a little miffed when I refused to agree. They sent the doctor in to convince me, but when he realized the date, he said, “Let’s neither of us show up.” He opted to work a different day, for me. So Elizabeth was born May 1.

Sometimes I think that after all these years, April 28 will have no power over me. That I can look back and think — it’s just a date.

But it’s not. It never will be. And for those of you who have traveled this road, you know what I mean. Some moments on our life’s calendar are never forgotten, can never be simplified or erased or overwritten by other events. And we wouldn’t want them that way.


Baby Casey would have been 13 today!

My first baby Casey would have been thirteen years old today, and we’re celebrating his would-have-been birthday with give aways of some great books on loss.

Since we can’t give Casey the things he would have liked, instead we’re giving things to YOU!

Head on over to the site of Baby Dust, my novel on pregnancy loss that will be released Oct. 1, and comment on any of the titles that you might find helpful. We’ll give away the books on October 1 to kick off Pregnancy Loss Remembrance Month.

We’re also taking this special day to celebrate the completion of the Baby Dust Book Trailer. Women from Ireland, London, Australia, Mexico, and the US talk about their babies, and the women of Illuminate, a photography class for grieving mothers, took the images that are used.

A Conversation about Heaven

About an hour ago, Elizabeth and I said our nightly prayer, which includes asking for God’s blessing on our friends and family members by name.

This time she said, “Don’t forget Irma.” Our good friends lost their two-day-old newborn yesterday.

“And God bless Irma,” I said.

“And her baby,” she added.

“And her baby.”

She pulled her pink kitty pillow closer. “Is Irma’s baby in heaven yet?”

I nodded. “He died last night, about the time you went to bed.”

“I know that,” she said. “But is he in heaven yet?”

“He is,” I answered. “How long do you think it takes?”

“About a week.”

I tucked her two favorite blankets around her. “So, where do you go for that week?”

She thought for a moment. “The waiting room. Like at the doctor.”

“I see.”

“Do I have to go back to the doctor?”

“Yes.” While I was at the hospital yesterday, Elizabeth had another seizure at school, this one much worse, adding four minutes of unresponsiveness to the old pattern of dizziness and inability to walk. She’d always been lucid through them before.

“Oh brother.” She sighed and closed her eyes.

She’s tired now, earlier than usual. We had to increase her medicines yet again and now must monitor her sleeping patterns in case the bigger doses make her too sluggish. But still, we have to increase the meds once more next week. Her body may no longer be responding to it.

I have known helplessness as long as I’ve known motherhood, my own first baby dying when I was 20 weeks pregnant. Then losing Elizabeth’s twin, a trauma that may have caused her brain damage.

How can we feel so desperate to protect our babies and yet be able to do so little?

She opened her eyes one more time. “It really doesn’t take a week?”

“Nope. Happens right away.”

“So Irma’s baby is already there?”


“Can he see us?”


“Can I tell him to take care of Finn?” Elizabeth’s fish has been sick for several weeks. “Fish do go to heaven, right?”

“I think so.”

“Do they have to wait a week?”

“Nope. Not fish either.”

She yawned and settled back into her pillow. “Good. I wouldn’t want to wait that long.”

Neither would I. And yet, we wait our lifetimes. Hopefully long ones. And hopefully ones where joy comes more often than loss, and fear is pushed away by faith