blue sky shining over

stillbirth: a guide for friends and family

the exact words are always different, and the names change … dear god, so many names … but the question is the same:

“my loved one’s baby died. what can i do?”

the tears come every time i read it. another life gone, another family shattered, a fellow mother hearing those horrible words, experiencing that horrible night, and the day after it, and the weeks that followed. the broken heart that breaks again, and again, and again.

in honor of pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, this is my answer to that question. i hope it will be helpful to you.

you cannot bring this life back, but there is so much you can do. you can be the reason they keep going, the reason they crawl off their tear stained pillow in the morning, the reason that, someday, they will laugh again. you cannot carry their grief, but you can carry them while they hold it.

you will never be more needed than in this moment.

(this post is specifically written for the loved ones of parents experiencing stillbirth and late-term pregnancy loss, but much of it will also apply to earlier miscarriage and infant loss as well.)

memorial candle star sky picturethe early days

if you’re one of the first
except in rare circumstances, pregnancy loss is shockingly, traumatically unexpected. and then the parents, in their state of shock and grief, are immediately battered with dozens of time-sensitive decisions that they have no time to research. because of this, opportunities to create and preserve memories are often lost. if you are one of the first to be brought into the time of loss, you can help by learning about their options. there are organizations that can come to the hospital and take beautiful baby pictures. hospital staff can take handprints, footprints, and casts of hands and feet. the baby can be dressed in beautiful baby clothing. a lock of hair can be cut and saved. in some areas, parents can transport the baby to a funeral home if they desire.

there is no one assigned to coach parents through the options of pregnancy loss, but as a friend, you can be that person. know their options.

(the resource list at the bottom of this post is a great place to start.)

less words, more tears
there is nothing you can say that will make this situation better. there is, however, plenty you can say that will cause pain. instead, cry with them. if they have no tears to shed, offer your tears to soothe their heart-wounds. hold the baby, if you can, and speak in a quivering voice about its tiny fingers and perfect nose. cry for the injustice and pain of a lost future that no words will save.

don’t wait for them to ask.
take initiative. your loved one cannot ask for what they need any more than a car crash victim can ask a paramedic for the medical procedure that will keep them alive. right now, your loved ones’ energy is completely wrapped up in just surviving.

be proactive, and if you’re unsure if what you’re doing is useful, ask them.

her body is sacred ground.
a mother of loss carries a world of life and death within her. her body, wracked with physical and emotional pain, carrying the living cells of the soul who is gone, deflated, bearing her crushed heart, is profoundly mysterious. the threshold of life and death has met in her belly, and she was the whole universe to this child that you mourn.

care for her. feed her nourishing food and life-bringing water, massage her empty hands and swollen feet, speak softly in her presence, bring her healing teas and herbs, light sweet-smelling candles… she has been closer to the cycle of life than any human ever is, and has experienced things that she herself does not understand. you can help to ease her journey back toward the world of the living; accept this responsibility with reverence.

what to say

usually, the best thing you can say is nothing at all. usually. most of the time.

instead, listen with your heart’s ears to the quivers in her voice, to the love when he speaks his baby’s name, to the anger and confusion threatening to burst from behind every word. listen to her sob. listen to the silence. truly listen, and be silently awestruck at the volume of the pain and love you hear.

ask questions.
when you must say something, start with questions. if you are unsure whether a question is ok to ask, ask about that! “do you mind if i ask you ….?” “can i ask you about …?” if you suspect that they may not want to talk, ask, “do you want to talk right now?” always start with a question.

know your loved one…
there is no universal script for speaking to a grieving person. what is comforting to one person may be alienating to another, and what is refreshing to one may feel defeating to someone else.

“god is in control.”
“everything happens for a reason.”
“your baby is in a better place.”
“your angel was too good for this earth.”
“your baby’s spirit wasn’t ready to come down yet.”
“you can try again.”

these are all phrases that i have seen some cling to for comfort, and others reject as horribly insensitive. know your loved one, and choose your words carefully.

…but not too well.
losing a child has a way of throwing our paradigms on the floor and crushing them. your devoutly religious sister may be enraged at the god she trusted; your atheist friend may suddenly cling to the hope of meeting his baby in the afterlife; your optimistic coworker may feel betrayed by the universe they believed was a good place. when in doubt about what to say, see above: ask questions.

it’s not about you … or is it?
parents want to know that their baby mattered. the loss of a life is too great a magnitude for one family to bear alone; this small human who would have interacted with thousands is gone before they can be missed by more than a few. the grief of the mother, the parents, and the immediate family is the most profound and acute, but your grief is valuable too. tell how you will miss the baby. your pain is a precious gift, and sharing it will ease your loved one’s isolation.

say the baby’s name.
speak the name. write the name. there is power in a name, and there is healing power in sharing the name of one who is gone.

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don’t forget family.
every member of the family experiencing pregnancy loss is grieving. don’t forget partners, other children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. you can validate their grief and give them a safe place to express it, and you may be the only one doing so.

give practical help.
grieving is exhausting. the physical side of pregnancy loss is exhausting and expensive. caring for a mother who is recovering from birth is exhausting. the trauma and shock of pregnancy loss is exhausting and all-consuming.
bring meals or snacks.
clean something.
give a thoughtful gift or gift card.
grocery shop.
give rides.
do yardwork.

do something. they need it.

adjust your expectations.
your loved one will never be the same person again. don’t expect them to be. once the dust settles from the initial stages of shock and trauma (and that may take much longer than you expect), start getting to know this new person, the parent-who-has-lost-a-child. don’t place burdensome behavioral, social, emotional, and spiritual expectations on them – it won’t help, and may cause you to miss opportunities to empathize and connect. grieve the loss of the loved one you used to know, and realize that they can never return to “how things used to be.” don’t place blame. instead, accompany them into this new reality with respect and acceptance.

practice rituals of remembrance.
after we lost our baby on december 14, a friend emailed me remembrances on the 14th of every month for a year. another friend lit a candle for him at her church and sent a certificate. another friend sent a care package, with books and a prayer box, and several friends gave thoughtful gifts. some sent greeting cards with pictures that reminded them of sky. others have given charitable contributions in his name. several friends made a christmas stocking for him, and gave it to us on his first birthday. one friend lights a candle for sky every year on infant loss awareness day. several people give gifts and flowers on his birthday each year.

remembrance rituals are deeply personal and can be shared with the parents at any time. you can be as creative as you wish, or use google for ideas. rituals can embody thoughtfulness, intention, focused emotion, personality, a sense of transcendence, and effort, all of which are soothing to the lonely experience of grief.

you are needed. yes, you.
it is natural to feel intimidated by parental grief and unqualified to enter into it. these feelings are normal, but they cause harm when they lead to a decision to step back from the grieving parents at this time. your voice, your listening ear, your questions, your practical support, your insight, and your shared grief are valuable. losing a child is incredibly isolating, and you can be sure that many of the people that your loved ones have depended on are dropping out of their life right now.

yes, being around grief is scary and unnerving, but don’t add yourself to the long list of people who are emotionally abandoning your loved ones. lean in to the pain and fear, and know that your choice to forego the easy path will result in an intimacy that is deeply rewarding.

don’t ever stop.
in one paradigm, the human experience can be divided into two parts: before experiencing profound loss, and after. eventually, everyone who lives long enough joins the “after” crowd, and must learn to incorporate grief into their daily lives. those who are here know the confusion of sudden grief; the lines of their face speak to the paradox of sobs and smiles, tears and laughter, profound ambivalence.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

~ anne lamott

the pain of losing a child doesn’t end after a few months, or a year, or another baby. almost all of the voices that share your loved one’s grief will dim and disappear as the months pass; don’t let your voice be one of them. continue to ask questions, share your grief, speak the baby’s name, observe remembrance rituals, give thoughtful gifts, and practice acceptance as the years go by.

this is the new normal.

when the next one comes…

the new baby doesn’t replace the former.

joy can live with grief, but doesn’t remove it.

every happy moment will have undertones of sadness.

every hopeful moment will have undertones of fear.

the new baby will not put the parents “back to who they were.”

experiencing pregnancy and infancy will bring new facets and depths of pain to the parents’ grief.

the new baby needs people to be excited for it; don’t let fear override that excitement (but be understanding if the parents do).

living babies are a lot of work, even without the emotional processing required by a previous loss. your loved one will need your acceptance, involvement, and practical and emotional support more than ever.

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faces of loss: resources  |  a comprehensive, well categorized resource list of everything from memorial jewelry to books on child loss.

unexpected goodbye: when your baby dies  |  a step-by-step pdf, part personal story, part guide, on the days immediately following baby loss.

glow in the woods  |  a nondenominational website for babylost parents to grieve, connect, and learn.

if you or someone you love has experienced pregnancy or child loss, what would you add to this list? please share in comments.

a typical morning

the other day, aida cooed a special little noise that she makes occasionally. it’s a gurgly little series of “hoo hoos” that melts my heart. it would probably melt your heart too. i listened to her with a melty heart, and suddenly realized that this might be the last time she ever makes that sound, at which point my eyes got a little melty, too.

there’s this myth in the current parenting paradigm – i’ll call it “the instagram effect.” (catchy, no? points if you thought that it sounded like the title of a big bang theory episode.) this myth is that it is somehow possible to record every wonderful thing your child does that you will miss when they stop doing it. it’s subconscious, of course; no one would admit to actually thinking that. but it’s easy to see why we start to believe it, surrounded as we are by photos and videos and statuses and blogs (like this one) filled up with an exhaustive inventory of other people’s memories. we snatch up our camera phones at every turn; the mantra of parenthood becomes “get her to do it again!”

but, parenting isn’t about “again” … it’s about now. catching the memory must be secondary to making the memory, and that means that a lot of memories will go uncaught, released like balloons into the sky, never to be seen or thought of again. my mind’s ear has already lost the exact inflection of aida’s sweet little coo from yesterday, and i didn’t catch it. the joy in moments that will slip away is bittersweet; the air fills with the scent of impermanence.

one of the reasons i am a photographer is that photography is an effective weapon against forgetfulness. professional photography is a particularly efficient weapon against forgetfulness, since a good photographer will see the details that you didn’t even realize you’d want to remember. a good photographer will sense the expressions that hold a deeper place in your heart. a good photographer will feel shimmering layers of relationship and emotion through the light and air. a good photographer doesn’t turn your life into art; they show you the art that lives in your life.

it took about 45 seconds of perusing the blog of weeno photography to know that i needed to hire them. ashley offers a unique service that she calls a “truth session,” in which she spends 3 hours with your family doing … whatever it is you do. making memories, in your very own house. with your very own mess, even. (or however much is left of it after your mad cleaning session the night before. wouldn’t want to be too truthful.)

on a sunny weekday morning in july, ashley came over and photographed our breakfast, our process of getting the kids ready to go out, a sweet roommate interaction, a walk to the park, and naptime, all very typical occurrences around here. i’m so grateful to have had this chance to make some memories, without the pressure to catch them. i know that many memories will fly away, but that only makes the ones that remain more precious.

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and then, they saw the sea

when we had packed the bags, passed the roadblocks, and staved off the screaming for 20 minutes fewer than necessary, the sea peeked around a bend in the road, but they did not see it.print ready-005

and when our joints popped and mouths yawned in fresh air as we climbed out of the car, and they had not napped, no sir, they saw shops and raindrops, but they did not see it.print ready-009-2

even when we padded down the sandy steps, and yes there was an ocean, but in front of the ocean was a CREEK and PEOPLE and SAND and OHMYGOSH A CREEK and CAN YOU BELIEVE ALL THIS SAND … i really don’t think they saw it.

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but the next morning, when there was no sound save for the beating of our hearts and the heartbeat of the waves, when there was no smell save for the overwhelming windswept soapy smell of the ocean, when you could write a book of wisdom from the whispers in the silence, when there was not another soul on miles and miles of sand, then they looked out across the dunes and the desert, and there was the sea.

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they saw, and they laughed, and danced, and he ran until he was naught but a blue speck with legs, and she grinned and ate sand. and they and the sea and the sand were together a big beautiful memory of blue and soft and pungent. their little lives grew 4 sizes that day, when they saw the sea.print ready-012print ready-006print ready-030print ready-028 print ready-029print ready-037 print ready-049print ready-047print ready-061

in between

in between is a strange category.

in between is the space after this word, and in between is the atlantic ocean. it’s the point of blankness, pregnant with moving energy. a finite vacuum pulling toward a magnetic pole.

the view of in between is like the view of the grand canyon … from the bottom.

in between is really a retrospective category; as we move along our lifeline, we look back to see the times where it is dotted from point to point. and yet, even though it is most easily identified once one is no longer in between, there’s this sense in the moment- this sense of suspension. the flow of focused energy toward an unknown point moving through body and spirit. the feeling of moving forward, albeit without landmarks to signal progress.

the in between spirit is defined by unfelt resolve. i may feel like a toddler with my shaky baby steps, but the force that pulls me forward only gains strength when i fall. the in between spirit is anything but stagnant; it is a strong wind rattling with leaves of confusion. the leaves are loud, but the wind is sure. the in between spirit is also like a pinball, in that it’s easy to be fooled by the erratic bouncing into forgetting the unbeatable pull of gravity; all pinball games are eventually lost. in its frantic haste to move from point A to point Unknown, the in between spirit casts away the luggage it carries, streamlining, refining, gaining lightness.

what is a poor bruised pinball to do when the frenetic pinging requires so much energy to survive, that there is none left to devote to finding gravity? thankfully, gravity has a way of finding poor bruised pinballs eventually. i guess there’s not much to do except hope that one’s guardian angel is an exceptionally poor pinball player.

because being in between sucks.

i’ll bet that almost every new-ish parent experiences this feeling. no one tells you that there is time in between becoming a parent and feeling like one. no one tells you that there’s a very good chance that this little ball of human effervescence will destroy your career and land you soundly on your bottom on the cold hard ground of stay-at-home un- or under-employment. or, as i like to optimistically think of it, pre-employment.

we’re in between right now. in between childlessness and being used to this parenting gig. in between accruing the medical debt of the past couple years, and paying it off. i’m in between jobs, possibly careers, possibly school. in between the experience of loss and the acceptance of it. in between the fall of the tower of babel, and cutting the ribbon to the golden city.

our children are in between. in between birth and awareness, in between the advent of the self and the consciousness of the self. in between understanding and speaking. in between moving, and moving with confidence. the shakiness of their baby steps belies the strength of the indomitable force that pulls them forward.

and this is what happens when i try to write a life update post, and realize that the only thing to update about life is that there is no definite update. after being a stay-at-home mom for a year and a half, i’m starting to come up for air and think about what the next few years might look like. last week i was going to school to become an occupational therapist. this week i’m restarting my photography business. the week before i was operating an at-home montessori preschool, and next week i might be completing my degree in black studies from portland state university. the options are at once vastly unlimited and hopelessly constricted, kind of like the bottom of the grand canyon.

we in-betweens may seem like a fickle bunch, but give us grace – a lot of rustling must happen before the wind is cleared of leaves.

death sausage

when in the course of human events a mother is enlightened with a nigh supernatural intuition regarding the relationship of her erstwhile begotten offspring unto legumes, that mother ought forthwith to act, or as the case may be, not act, upon this miraculous revelation.

in other words, i had a hunch that the kid might have a peanut allergy.

feeding ash has always been an adventure. even before his first solids, unknown food sensitivity in breast milk, poor suck reflex, and significant tongue tie foiled our attempts at breastfeeding, and we placed him on a hypoallergenic formula.”what will the baby keep down today?” became a frequent question soon after ash experienced his first solid: boiled carrots.


as the first baby in an intentional community house, he experiences no milestone without an appreciative audience.


TV4A8927looking coy, post carrots.

the carrots proved harmless enough and, emboldened, we expanded his culinary repertoire.

as i said, i had a hunch about the peanuts. with no concrete reason to worry, though, we gave him peanut butter at about 9 months old. it started well enough; he dabbed some on his sweet round cheeks and stared at us with a look of pure enjoyment.

peanut butter ash 001this is a look of pure enjoyment. trust me.

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soon he began to scratch, a not uncommon occurrence for our little eczema baby.

peanut butter ash 010and then he began to swell.

peanut butter ash 013this was the last picture i took before tossing my camera on the counter and rushing the baby into a soapy bath. yes, i am the mother whose child had a full blown anaphylactic reaction in front of me and i stood there taking pictures. mom of the year award.

peanut allergies, while not fun, are nonetheless fairly common. we continued to feed the child without worrying too much about subsequent issues. oh sure, he puked up cow’s milk. and his special dairy free formula gave him reflux. and his special goat milk formula caused a bleeding diaper rash. and tomatoes and citrus were out because of his eczema. and gluten gave him gas. and his food sensitivity panel bar graph looked like the dubai skyline. but other than that, he could eat anything! (as long as it didn’t require chewing, since he didn’t have teeth.)

this pretty much left … more carrots.

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so, we fed him carrots and almond milk, and somehow he grew and … sorta … thrived

until one day last may, when i fed him the same sausage that he had eaten every week for months. chicken apple – a hoity-toity brand with no “caramelly appetizing color #42″ or “crude oil as a preservative” … the kind with prune juice as a sweetener. as soon as it touched him, it burned sores and blisters onto his already fragile skin. this sausage, the one that he ate almost daily. we suspect that the culprit is the pineapple-juice-from-the-tropics-of-hell that was on the ingredient list, but we can’t be sure.

adding insult to injury, the child still has scars from this incident on his thighs that don’t seem to be receding very quickly. at this rate, he’ll be explaining his sausage battle scars to the rest of 7th grade p.e. class, a fate that this paranoid parent may have spent a bit too much time agonizing about.

the date allergy was discovered after the consumption of several innocently named “lara bars.” i assume that this lara-human bears no specific ill will against my son, but if she does then may she spend the rest of eternity cultivating pineapples.

so we feed the child warily, our vision sharp and our affect tense. at every meal we march to the battlefield, eyes keen, searching for a sign of the enemy. “is that a hive or a zit?” “does his lip look swollen to you?” “why is his hand red? WHY IS HIS HAND RED?” parenting food allergies is a gig for thrill seekers.

yes, we have learned well the lesson of the pestilent legume and the death sausage. constant vigilance.

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1000 days

i blame our friend becky. she started it.

becky loves to celebrate her friends’ 10,000th day of life with elaborate surprise plans, involving city-wide scavenger hunts, strange foods to sample, and – no joke, she actually did this to somebody – skydiving. the 10,000th day hits a few months after the 27th birthday, which meant that, back in may, i was given my 10,000th day celebration. even though i know  the drill by now i still had no idea what my friends were up to, until joel took me to lunch and gave me this letter that he wrote, which explains why we love the idea of day-celebrations so much.

Today, you’ve been on this world for 10,000 days. When you measure a life by days rather than years it changes perspective quite a bit. A day brings to mind meals, chores, conversations and all the beautifully small things of life.

Years are just too big to be meaningful to us. Years bring to mind job changes, big family changes and moving homes. Days are what life is made of. Years are what biographies are made of. Days are what matter.

Today we celebrate the beautiful smallness of life. We celebrate all the amazingness that has mostly been forgotten. We celebrate mindfulness.

You spent days playing at your parents climbing trees and running around, taking care of animals. You played literal days of piano at home at at churches. You worked at Rose’s Tea Room serving thousands of cups of tea and who knows how many scones. We’ve been married almost 3600 days. The past 1000 days have been consumed with our children, Aida, Ash and Sky. They have filled your mind, and eyes and ears every day. You’ve changed thousands of diapers, made 100’s of eggs and lost untold hours of sleep. Spent hours breast feeding and unfortunately breast pumping. You’ve played games and dried tears. You’ve filled days with laughter, tears, stress, joy, relief, prayer, and pain.

The smallness of life is what is important.
You live in the small things.

As you look back at the past 10,000 days I’m sure that so much is a blur, so much of what you remember must feel random. You remember the most insignificant things and forget some of the most important. Entire years blur together into a mush. You have gone through pain and joy. You have been weak and strong. You have been wise and foolish. Through it all, you have been you. Through the 10,000 sunrises you have been Lani.

Give yourself grace, you make mistakes like all, learn from them and move on.
Be reckless; you will make more memories.

When you have lived 20,000 days you will be almost 55 and it will be fall, I’ll have just turned 63 and it will be the 33rd anniversary of you getting hit by a car. There is so much of life left. You’ll eat 30,000 meals between now and then. Go to sleep more than 10,000 times. You’ll spend days with friends and family, learning new things, seeing new things and delighting in old things. 

Today, we remember the days, look forward to more and do just a little that will feel good and make another day to remember.

There is so much smallness to delight in.

So many beautiful tiny things from which to derive joy. I’m looking forward to journeying with you as we do it together. I’ll be your partner as we live the days together. 

Perhaps someday we’ll become wise enough to count the hours instead, as they are even more precious than the days.

Until then, lets fill up our days with beautiful smallness and delight in it all.

(certain mushy parts omitted. you’re welcome.)

that day was filled with lovely memories, the mundane kind of special that is lunch out, a pedicure, that sort of thing. no skydiving, thank heavens. i prefer to keep a safe distance from them – the heavens, that is.

today, however, is another millenidia.

2 days ago marked 1000 days since sky’s last heartbeat. yesterday was 1000 days from when we learned that he was gone, and today is 1000 days since his birth.

1000 sunrises, 1000 sunsets.
1000 breakfasts, 1000 dinners.
1000 good mornings, 1000 goodnight kisses.

we miss the years with him, the birthdays and christmases and spring-into-summer-into-falls, but oh, how we miss the days. the days are where grief is lived and loss is worked out, through each missed moment and moment of missing. on his birthdays we celebrate his short life, but on his millenidia we look at 1000 days and wish that we had experienced even one.

today, i will change sky’s siblings’ diapers in honor of his.
i will wipe his little sister’s nose and remember his perfect newborn nose of 1000 days ago.
i will repeat mama and dada with his brother and sister, learning language together with sky’s mama and dada.
i will give his sick brother all of the special kind of bittersweet cuddles that mamas of loss have; we hold just a little tighter.

it will be another day of love and loss, pain and joy, stress and relief, morning and night. another day.

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hippies, hippies everywhere

 reflections from our family trip to the oregon country fair 

we would have been crazy to camp.

we did try. we bought the tent on craigslist, got a great deal on the camp stove, dug out the old tarps (because in the pnw, you just never know). our first weekend away as a family of four, and we were going to spend 4 nights on a 10×10 patch of grass (either meaning for the word “grass” works here) surrounded by tapestries, revelry, pot smoke, and bugs.

2 days before we were due to leave, we booked a hotel room, which was pretty much the best decision ever.

the oregon country fair is one part craft bazaar, one part music festival, one part circus, and packed with hippies of all ages and state of dress (or undress, in some cases). it seems to serve the function of a hazing ritual for oregon’s peacemongering, hippiest left-wingnuts to claim their membership in the tribe of “middle class repressed suburbanites who want to feel edgy for a weekend.”

“hey,” we thought, “that sounds like us.”
so we piled more luggage than i’d like to admit in the back of our rav4 (which, by the way, is not a car that would secure its occupants a place in hippie heaven), drove to eugene, and came away with a few reflections.

daddy and the kids in our hotel room, dressed for fair success.

oregon country fair

first lesson of the weekend: if something that looks like a rock climbing wall and is next to a graveyard, it’s probably a mausoleum. not a rock climbing wall. don’t call it a rock climbing wall; apparently that’s disrespectful. oops.

joel rocks the carrier and the stroller in the parking lot as we head for the middle of the forestIMG_0447IMG_0449

second lesson: if one is not disposed toward relieving oneself in an egregiously named “honey bucket,” one has the option of achieving, through conscientiousness and perfect timing, rock star bladder status. not that one would know from experience.IMG_0460IMG_0458IMG_0456



first things first: diaper changes and snacks in a colorful corner.IMG_0470IMG_0485

the beautiful and the bizarre comingle in small, but well stocked, vendor booths.IMG_0486IMG_0487IMG_0490IMG_0496IMG_0497IMG_0499IMG_0510IMG_0516IMG_0534IMG_0535IMG_0536IMG_0539IMG_0538




lesson four: tie dye is an acquired taste. after spending a few days marinating in it, it starts to look kind of … beautiful.IMG_0509IMG_0494IMG_0500IMG_0541

the art. my word, the art. wherever people weren’t, art was there. fairy gardens and tree-people, huge sculptures and human-sized kaleidoscopes, banners, strange shapes and beautiful designs in every corner. art infused the grounds with vitality, beauty, spirituality, and of course, plenty of photo opps. even the garbage areas were decorated!IMG_0533IMG_0507IMG_0543IMG_0519IMG_0488

there were at least ten stages for music and spoken performances of every kind. the performances weren’t limited to stages, though; wherever there was a few feet of extra room, performers fiddled, knitted, walked about on stilts, led impromptu drum lines, and dressed up as adam and eve, bumblebees, disney princesses, orca whales, fairies … the list goes on.IMG_0532IMG_0514IMG_0548

aerial yogaIMG_0508IMG_0520

this man operated a human powered woodcutting machineIMG_0522 

orca whales diving on the backs of “the ocean” on stilts.IMG_0523

more stilts!IMG_0544


finding our birth years.
strangely enough, the posters reflect our personalities quite well.IMG_0531

pit stopIMG_0550IMG_0553IMG_0556IMG_0560IMG_0565IMG_0574

a certain small human did not want to end the pit stop.IMG_0579IMG_0591

dusty paths = dirty feetIMG_0584

aaaaand, we’re off!IMG_0593

we stopped for an early dinner, and the kids fell asleep by 6:30. having fun is exhausting!IMG_0597IMG_0595IMG_0602

the next morning, ash prepares for the return to the fair with some simple yoga poses. (the “simple yoga pose” in this picture was sustained for about 1.5 seconds.)IMG_0621thunder and lightning and cheering and music and mud and coffee and the last day!IMG_0640IMG_0645IMG_0657IMG_0660IMG_0664IMG_0649

i initially thought, “we won’t fill in all the gaps, but that’s ok. at least we’ll have our family picture!”
until we got home, and uploaded the photos to the computer, and i looked at it and cried. the large peach with the little holes, no doubt moonlighting from its regular job during fall, i’m sure, was made for our little family. our faces poked out from the peachy pink flaps, joel and i smiling, ash shaking his head warily, and aida blowing bubbles. and one face trapped behind that hateful accursed peachy pink flap, somewhere in between us and the peach. some days grief is stark, and some days it is absurd. nevertheless we have our family picture, and its portrayal of our family is more accurate than we had hoped or wanted.
in spite of the surprising moments of grief, it was a happy trip. the last lesson we learned was an intangible one, related to self expression. the beauty of individuality was bright and whole, and yet, even as people made their beauty more pronounced, the extra vulverability revealed the broken inside each dancing swaying laughing face. the biggest question i found myself asking was, “why?” why is that man dressed up like the devil; why is this one dressed up as jesus? does this woman wear wings because she wants to fly; does that one wear little clothes because she wants to accept herself? bodies and souls were bared as each person turned inside out, and placed a profound level of trust in the other 44,999 people there to provide a safe place.
it was overwhelming, and beautiful, and overwhelmingly beautiful. self expression is one tool in the toolbox of individuals fighting their demons, and the struggle is brave. it is radical acceptance of the idea that we aren’t valuable in spite of our brokenness any more than we are valuable because of it. we simply are. there is value in lines of worry underneath a face-painted butterfly, searching eyes behind a devil mask. each person pictured the divine, the image of god decorated with glitter, sporting tutus, cheering for the thunder, and dancing in the dusty path.IMG_0668
they didn’t want to leave, and neither did we. it was a beautiful trip.IMG_0671
the most special part of the fair was finally finding replacements for our nearly-10-years-old wedding rings. we had decided that they don’t really fit our personality anymore, and i was eager to ditch the blood diamonds, so we switched them out for a couple of inexpensive but good quality puzzle rings. a perfect way to end our first family vacation since kids.IMG_0679


nana’s camera



this week, joel’s mom and stepdad visited from san clemente, california. the kids’ nana karen brought her little point-and-shoot, and documented a fun little series of our family life these days. so, as a reintroduction to our family after a year of not blogging, here are the contents of nana’s camera.

en route to the portland farmer’s market
karen's camera 201

daddy’s pickled carrots are always a hitkaren's camera 203 karen's camera 206

grandpa richard and aida having breakfast at petite provence

karen's camera 207blink faces for mommy and ash!
karen's camera 208 karen's camera 210 karen's camera 212 karen's camera 213 karen's camera 215

dinner with housemates and friends
karen's camera 216 karen's camera 217 karen's camera 218 karen's camera 219 karen's camera 220

karen's camera 222 karen's camera 224 karen's camera 228
karen's camera 230 karen's camera 232

touring ne mississippi avenue necessitates a stop for ice cream at ruby jewelkaren's camera 233 karen's camera 235 karen's camera 236 karen's camera 238 karen's camera 245 karen's camera 246

sad babies have a solution, and his name is ian. conveniently, he is also our housemate.
karen's camera 248

or savannah … who also lives in our house.

karen's camera 249my morning juggling act
karen's camera 251 karen's camera 252a lot of life revolves around medical appointments right now, especially for ash. thankfully, a trip to ohsu’s pediatric sleep clinic provides a lovely opportunity to ride the tram!
karen's camera 258 karen's camera 259 karen's camera 260 karen's camera 261karen's camera 265

aida spends her days inching closer to crawling

karen's camera 262

karen's camera 266she takes a quick break to nurse …
karen's camera 270

… and then she’s off again!karen's camera 268 karen's camera 272 karen's camera 277the beautiful ordinary, documented for a week on nana’s camera.


chapter 2

a little over a year ago, i wrote the following post, which broke down into a journal entry, and i did not post it. instead, i stopped writing.


how does one write about the pain of loneliness and alienation?

when god’s silence is the heaviest cross to bear.

when the utter abasement of spiritual confusion is too humble to draw empathy.

when the humanity of a dead baby is devalued by so many microaggressions.

when in a spiritual desert that requires true wandering, and confident voices lead only to oases of mud.

when the poor in spirit are assigned a pair of bootstraps.

when blessed are those who mourn, for they are judged.

when blessed are the meek, for they are trampled under the feet of the confident.

because now we have left the world of the dead, and reentered the world of the living and the happy and the “god has a plan for everything” and everything else that people expect from us. they think they have us “back” now, but you don’t just come ba -

GAH i can’t write because everything hurts, and i can’t weed out the parts to hold back from the parts to share. i don’t have anything to share except confusion, and i don’t know how to share confusion. everything is too fragmented, and i want to put it together but it’s like putting together a 100 piece puzzle with only 38 pieces. it doesn’t make sense and there’s no picture on the box and none of the pieces are adjacent and, what’s more, i’m afraid of being judged for my pathetic broken little puzzle because i already have been.

how do i write a post about the pain of judgment without sounding defensive?

why do i want to write anyway? i can write … i can write this emotional word-vomit blather. i can write short, declarative sentences, most of which begin with “i” and are centered around my relentless feeeeelings. so i can write. i just can’t write what i want to. i just can’t write anything that makes sense of life. i can’t write a piece of art or empathy. if i hurt the right amount, i can turn it into art, but this hurt right now is too much; i can’t harness it or use it.

losing sky was a pure hurt, one that made me whole. this awful mess of lost-relationship-confusion-complication-transformation and worst – the assumption that we’re fine now because ash replaced sky … this is fragmenting hurt. this pain rips apart, takes the pieces of me and throws them into a cloud, obscuring god and others. i lose people and ideas and systems of thought and my train of thought and nothing makes sense and i can’t put humpty dumpty together again by writing about it.

and i don’t want to share this, because giving people the parts of me that are unpolished and shaking with pain and anger is … utter foolishness.

what does “i can write” even look like right now? i don’t know how to write my way through this. i need to be more whole, more honest. but i can’t force wholeness. i was hoping that by writing all of this silliness, then the art and creativity and beauty would eventually start to flow. it hasn’t. i’m right back where i started.

i just can’t be this honest. i can’t be this bare. nobody wants to read this much self-centered darkness. some can write about grief because their souls are light and beautiful and tender and focused. others bring clarity of writing and intellectual creativity. i am empty right now. i don’t have anything to bring except hurt and brokenness, and no pretty words to dress it up. no fancy metaphors to bring comfort to others. no exhortations, and … no happy ending.

having ash didn’t make us whole again. he brings joy into our hurting lives, but we are broken parents to him. our family is built on the pain of loss. we lost sky. ash lost his birth family and culture. we are like survivors of a war. we pick ourselves up, limp to the nearest refugee camp, and make a family from the few hurting people we find there. we found ashal, and he found us, and now we are family. a family born from trauma and pain and making the best of awful situations.

“congratulations, it’s a boy!”

i’m not an author. i’m just a housewife with a blog that is marinated in my own emotional juices and starting to smell putrid.

it stopped there, and i didn’t write for a year. we went through a pregnancy and had a baby. we ended some life chapters, and began writing new ones. life was dark, and light, sometimes in the same day, sometimes at the same time. i include that post because i think differently now, and believe that hurt and brokenness are beautiful, precious gifts to give.

blessed are those who receive the nakedness of others’ hearts, for empathy will be theirs, and through empathy, the whole world.

and i’m ready to write a new chapter. a chapter of tiny and beautiful things, small and sad things, the ephemera of young children, for whom every experience is a microcosm of the universe, and young ideas, which are remarkably similar.

a chapter with a tiny bit more vulnerability than the last one, and a lot of cute pictures.


“welcome to the rest of our life,” he said last week, waltzing through the door on his last day of training. “from now on, i’m only working 3 days per week. my training is done, my schooling is probably done … 5 years pursuing my dream, and now it’s your turn.”

my turn. my turn to be … something. anything. a student and the world’s best wedding photographer and a middle school choir teacher and a writer of books and a mentor to foster kids and a runner and a farmer and a lover of god and people and everything i want to be for the rest of my life.

how often do normal days become the first day of the rest of your life? defining moments dropped like a boulder into a pond, making life unnormal for a while, and then a new normal, until again a new unnormal. and the rest of your life is hard to recognize for a while, and then the grace time slowly creeps in, transforming the new rest of your life into beautiful, wise, painful normal.

when you’re six years old and you sing a lot, and your parents find the best piano teacher they can, and you shyly climb the stairs to her blue and flowered living room, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you put down the last test, essay hand aching, and creep out quietly so as not to disturb others, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s dark and cold and sparkling, and you watch the city lights dance on the water, balancing your way along a log with his hand supporting you, and suddenly you’re in his arms and a too-small ring is cutting off the circulation to your knuckle, welcome to the rest of your life.

when your friend holds out a check for a hundred dollars, and you say no, really, i just like taking pictures, and they say take it, you’re amazing, you deserve it, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you dip a piece of plastic into a cup of your own excrement and there are two parallel lines like towers, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the doctor standing over your 9 month swollen belly says i’m so sorry, welcome to the rest of your life.

when it’s monday morning and your adoption worker calls and there’s a baby in florida, do you want him, welcome to the rest of your life.

when god says “let there be light,” and a bright light shines on the god-shaped confusion, the finally honest chaos, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the worst thing happens and you survive, fighting to overcome and winning your self back, welcome to the rest of your life.

when the best thing happens, and it’s actually truly really real, welcome to the rest of your life.

when you try and try and agonize and fume and hide and talk and plead and cry tears of blood in the middle of the night, and then you realize that you can’t control anyone’s actions except your own, welcome to the rest of your life.

when there’s no going back, the bridge is drawn up behind you and the prairie wilderness before you, the paths are many and faint, the wild wind in your hair and on your face and the rain soaking through your clothes and the sun bright and dancing on a faraway hill, welcome to the rest of your life.


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