To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Buckling Under Pressure

The following is my submission to a writing contest. The submissions had to have the lead line of "In many ways it made perfect sense...", be between 700 - 1000 words, and be awesome. Two out of three ain't bad. If you would keep your prayers (and fingers) crossed for me, we'll see what the experts have to say about Val's "mind mumbles".

In many ways it made perfect sense. I had finally graduated after taking the "scenic route" to get my degree, and my husband decided he wanted to return to school himself. Student loans were going to be a part of our lives anyway, I knew how much he wanted to finish his schooling, and I agreed the timing was right. We had our cozy little life near our cozy little college and we could continue being, well, cozy.

Then he told me he wanted to move. 

He offered up the suggestions of moving to Billings, MT, or Dickinson, ND. Being that we lived close to family in rural Wyoming, I chose Billings. It was close to home, close to family, and we could pop back to our familiar life whenever the fancy struck us. I told him, with no room for misinterpretation, "I refuse to live in North Dakota." 

Searching for jobs and housing in Billings proved no easy task. We were coming up on dead ends at every turn. Even the school was becoming difficult to work with in getting Brent admitted as a student. We were frustrated and feeling defeated. Here we were trying to go about moving - a big decision for us - and coming up short continuously.

Around that time, we attended a wedding in Fargo. As I hugged the groom good-bye before our drive back home, he said to me, "We hope you move here." I laughed. I refuse to live in North Dakota.

Billings continued to give us trouble and looked more and more like it wasn't going to be a viable option. We met with each pastor at our church, seeking prayerful guidance on what to do and where to go. We knew we had to move, but we had no idea where. Or how. Or what to do once the answer was determined.

Leaving the church after one such meeting, I stopped outside the doors. A sense of warmth overcame me, and I heard an internal, audible voice tell me, "Fargo." I looked up at Brent, who was several steps ahead of me and called out to him. He turned around and I stammered, "We're supposed to move to Fargo."
"Did God just tell you that?" he asked.
"Yes..." I replied.
"Cool." he answered, as he turned around kept walking.

Um, hello? I just told you I heard from the Most High. He told me we're supposed to move to Fargo. To North Dakota. The best you can offer is "cool"?

I would love to tell you upon hearing the voice of God, I fell prostate in worship and reverence. That I was so moved by hearing Him speak to my very heart, I had an incredible emotional experience there in front of the church building. The truth of the matter is, however, as my husband continued to walk to the car, I began to argue with God. "Fargo? Not only in North Dakota, but the eastern most side of it? You can't be serious. It won't work. It doesn't suit us. No way."

Yes, folks, the first time I ever heard God speak directly to me, I tried to throw His words right back to him. Thanks but no thanks, God. I know we've been praying for direction and clarity, and even though you just answered that prayer - rather mightily, no less - I'm afraid you're going to have to come back with a better answer. Says me.

To prove it was as much a farce as moving to Billings had turned out to be, I suggested we look for jobs and housing. Our friends who had recently gotten married in Fargo agreed to apartment hunt for us. In short order, they found us a nice apartment, and the landlord agreed to hold it if we sent the deposit. We didn't even have to send the first month's rent to secure the apartment; just the deposit. Brent and I both were interviewed via telephone for different jobs on the same Friday. The following Monday, we both received phone calls that we had been hired for those jobs, despite the employers never seeing so much as our picture. The university happened to be the last college Brent attended, so having him readmitted appeared to be a fairly smooth process. Maybe God knew what would work for us after all. 

After quickly securing a place to live, gainful employment, and readmission to college for my husband, we felt more secure this was in fact the path we were supposed to travel. But North Dakota, God? Really?

We've been in Fargo eight years now. We bought our first home here, started a family here, and after our second daughter, Harlynn, was stillborn, we buried her here. Our Fargo roots grow deeper each year. I can't imagine living any place else.

It made sense to continue living where we were living and doing what we were doing. We were comfortable. We were content. We were cozy. God shook that "sense" to a scramble of ordained chaos in a matter of prayerful moments. When the dust settled, however, it was clear He had decreed our move. His hand has been working in our life visibly ever since. I haven't heard His voice so definitively since that autumn day outside the church building, but I suspect if and when I do, there will be more of a "Yes Lord, praise you Lord!" response instead of an argument. It seems the Lord knows what He's doing. Even in North Dakota.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SLF Stillbirth Summit 2014

I'm not even sure how to write this blog post. There is no sense of organization to my thoughts, I have randomized recall, and as soon as I remember one thing, I forget another. My mind was a bit fried as a result of the last several days. So much so, that when my rechargeable toothbrush started blinking its battery light and I didn't have the charger with me, I thought, "Oh no. I'm going to have to ask the front desk for a toothbrush." can't use a spinny toothbrush unless it spins apparently. *palm/forehead* All I can say is the Stillbirth Summit put on by Star Legacy Foundation, was incredible. Incredible seems hardly large enough a word, but it's the best I can think of for now.

I was a little late in getting my room reservation made, but the hotel was very accommodating, still gave me the group rate, and I think I fared for the better in waiting because I'm sure they ran out of the "block" of rooms, and put me in one they had available - and it was a really nice room. The valet helped me with my luggage after check-in and asked why I was in town. I told him "For the Stillbirth Summit". His demeanor changed immediately - but not in the "oh, she just talked about dead babies" kind of way. He became empathetic and relateable in that very instant. He told me of his wife's two miscarriages many years ago, and the horrible ordeal he had to endure himself to assist her. He told me, through teary eyes, how he wished he had known more back then so he could better help his wife process their loss. He told me it took her years to recover emotionally. He then said, "I can imagine....well, no. I can't imagine. I only know of miscarriage. I cannot imagine how horrible it would be to experience stillbirth." 

You guessed it: the valet made me cry. The summit had not even begun, and there I was shedding tears already. I tell that story, though, so you understand how deeply impacted others are by perinatal loss, and how if you talk to someone long enough, you'll find out they have a story as well. Perinatal loss affects so many people, yet is kept such a hushed secret. I don't understand.

There was a reception in the lobby for those who had arrived that evening. After settling in to my room, I headed over and met a SLF volunteer, and fellow loss mom. I talked with her for quite a while and also talked with the Executive Director of the SLF, Lindsay. After the drive, the day in general, and knowing I had to gear up for an emotionally charged three days, I retired for the evening.

One thing I was looking forward to was a room to myself to sleep so very soundly in. That didn't happen. The first night there was a huge thunderstorm that woke me up, along with the panic-waking of, "Why hasn't Little Man cried?!" Oh...right, he is home with his Daddy. The first day of the summit I woke up a few minutes after 4 a.m. and stayed awake. I will say the lack of sleep over the three days (last two years...) combined with my hearing loss, having to pump every couple of hours, and my incessant need for food really inhibited my focus and ability to absorb everything from each presentation. That said, I still learned so much and was beside myself with both hope and despair. Despair that an event like this should even exist, but hope for the things I heard, because of the people I met, and for the change we were all coming together to advocate for. Preventing stillbirth. Preventing families from losing their babies.

Presentation after presentation, meeting after meeting, I was blown away for so many reasons. Here we had academic, professional researchers in front of us. Having worked in an academia setting (scientific field no less), one word I would not generalize the scientific research population under is "empathetic." I don't say that to be mean, I just have experienced the more analytical, logical, process-minded people tend to be less empathetic than other non-academia fields. However, this group was the exception to the rule. Their compassion, empathy, and motivation to find solutions in research rather than just more funding for notoriety, was astounding. I wanted to put them all in my pocket and bring them home with me. There are things that can be done - there are things being done - with regard to stillbirth and prevention, and these people are so passionate about what they do. I hugged only a couple of them (Hugger alert!), but truly, I adored these people so much. The medical world has a lot to gain by listening to these individuals and their collective research findings. Not only the medical world, but the OB world in general - from expectant mothers to OBs themselves, and everyone in between and beyond. There is power in knowledge, and there is plenty to be educated on with regard to perinatal loss, and the benefits of knowing as much as possible about it before it happens.

Over 2300 stars hung, representing babies lost.
I saw doctors tear up as they spoke with us. These weren't just doctors - some of them had lost a baby as well. These were colleagues in a cause. Those who hadn't experienced loss were still so attuned to the grieving hearts of parents missing their babies. I cannot say enough about these people - these professionals - who contributed to such an encouraging display of educational, concrete material. 

Dr. Ruth Fretts ~ One of my many favorites.
I met Kiley Hanish - the mother who inspired and whose husband produced the Return to Zero movie. She wasn't a Hollywood snob. She was a loss mom, sorting through life without her son. She was one of us. A club member, who would give anything to have the club not exist. I met another loss mom who had a story so similar to my own, I walked away from our conversation thanking God for bringing us together. Knowing you're not alone is such a powerful thing, and having someone share your experience on such a specific level, while completely disheartening to even be true, is also encouraging. There are people who get it. I spent a lot of time with a couple who is from my area locally, and we were all able to laugh and cry together. The community of loss parents is a unique community - it's a diverse group of people. Baby loss is not discriminatory. It can happen to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, beliefs, geography - no one is immune. As diverse as the loss community is, the common thread of our experiences creates a bond not easily shaken.

Kiley Hanish
They screened the Return to Zero movie. I had not seen it when it aired on Lifetime, because we don't have cable. The first time I watched it, there in that room, I was surrounded by strangers. That fact was intimidating. It was frightening. It was remarkable. There were so many "little" details in the movie that were not little details at all. I was able to relate to and project my own experience into so many pieces of the movie. While it was one of the most difficult films I've ever had to watch, it was one of the most meaningful personal experiences I've ever had. If you can purchase this movie (available on Amazon) and get it in to the hands of your OB & L&D departments at your local hospitals, it may revolutionize the care and attention bereaved families receive post-delivery, and will certainly raise awareness to preventing stillbirth to begin with. Please consider purchasing and donating to your medical facilities!!

Group Photo prior to the RTZ screening
There was a memorial service to close out the summit. Immediately prior to it starting I found myself feeling so angry. In my chair I was thinking, "It was 2013. Not 1913. Harlynn should be here. This summit should not have to happen. Doctors should not be clueless after-the-fact of a stillbirth occurrence, and should be in tune with doing everything they can to prevent it beforehand. Mothers should know it can happen - before finding out only because it happened to them." I find myself congratulating expectant mothers but thinking to myself, "I hope nothing goes wrong for you..." Why are we in an age where things can still go wrong in pregnancy? Where healthy babies die before they have a chance to thrive? And why are we in an age where a mother becomes upset about the death of her child and is offered anti-depressants to quiet her up, rather than any tangible resources for sorting through the grief of the most traumatic experience in her life? 

My anger subsided as the memorial service began, and it was a beautiful tribute to our babies lost. There was a moment where we were asked to close our eyes and visualize a "place". I won't go into what my place was, though it was beautiful and serene, but I will tell you I have never felt a stronger connection with Harlynn than what I felt in that moment. I saw her. She held my hand. She giggled and she held a white tulip. We both wore purple dresses. I met her in that place, and I held my daughter's hand. I wish I could relay the significance - the power - of that moment. I held her hand in the hospital room, but she couldn't hold mine back. There in our purple dresses, she reached for and clasped my hand. I saw her blue eyes and her blonde pigtails and I had time with my daughter. I went from being angry that she died, to being elated to find her, to feeling incredibly sad I had to leave her again. But I'll go back to that place, now that I know to get there. All I have to do is close my eyes.

Afterwards, there was a balloon release. Over 900 balloons were let go to fade away into the heavens with names of and notes to our babies. Watching the blue, pink, and white balloons fill the Minnesota sky that night was humbling. How little we are in such a big world, and how smaller we are still compared to the heaven that awaits us. Our babies wait to meet us there. It was all I could do not to fall in the grass and weep as those balloons were let go. I wanted to tie them all to myself and have them haul me away as high as the heavens would allow. Just let me get a little closer, Harlynn....

I had a crappy initial experience with college, and as a result, my entire college journey was tainted. I wanted it over with as quickly as possible, and chose the degree that would be easiest for me to obtain. The quickly-as-possible part didn't happen, but I got my degree, by george. As much as I loathed every step along the way, I got that degree. Attending this summit had me up in arms to go BACK to school, and get one more - maybe a dozen more - degrees so I can further advance and advocate for the research in the perinatal loss world. Thankfully, there are other ways for me to be involved, and I can help without homework, but for the record - I would do it in an instant if I had to.

Our amazing panel of researchers/presenters at close of day 2
I can't encapsulate my entire summit experience into a single blog post, but I can tell you this: this community of loss families, of researchers, of professionals, and of advocates will stop at nothing to ensure no more families have to endure this pain. As emotionally exhausting an experience I had, I left there feeling encouraged and inspired and absolutely full. 

Please, if you'd like more information on the summit, or how you can be involved - especially if you are in the OB and L&D community - visit Star Legacy Foundation. It's a wealth of information, and is manned by incredible, compassionate people. You won't waste your time for becoming involved with them.

Sherokee Isle - Author of "Empty Arms" which helped us tremendously after losing Harlynn.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Psalm 29:11

My mornings are no longer quiet. I'm feeding a baby, or pumping, or both. I'm getting Little Miss breakfast because she's "so starving, mama!" I'm consoling infant screams. I'm trying to find my sanity because at times it feels as if maybe I simply misplaced it, and it isn't actually gone forever... The days of sitting in my favorite spot on the couch and watching the sun come up in the morning while I drink my hot coffee are long gone. Part of that is because the sun starts to rise before 5:00 a.m. No thank you. If my coffee is hot, it's the rare day I had a few spare seconds to 1) make some and 2) zap it in the microwave four times after running around caring for cries, coos, and cuddle requests. No, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I also wouldn't turn down a morning where I could sit on the sofa in my favorite spot and enjoy the quiet still of a day dawning.

How *awesome* would it be, if this were actually the sunrise view from my sofa?!
Having Little Man here is such a beautiful mess. I get lost in his little expressions. I try to decipher every grunt and squeak. I melt with every one of his sleepy smiles. I question if it's really necessary for him to rear his head back like a showy wild stallion and try to fly backwards out of my arms. He seems to think so. I fret over every what-if. We've had issues worthy of concern. He couldn't ride in a normal car seat until he was almost six weeks old. He couldn't maintain his oxygen level enough to sit for extended periods in one, and we were essentially home-bound with him during that time, due to the not-so-convincingly-safe car seat bed we had in the meantime. He has a hearing loss in both ears, though we're unsure as to what degree. His mouth is slightly inhibited in the way of his cheek, lip, and tongue function. More appointments. More tests. More worry for mama. Even the "normal" issues give rise to concern. Did he poop too much today? Not enough? Did I remember to do tummy time? Was Little Miss this gassy? Are his feet cold? How is it possible he's hungry again? Will he ever stop crying? Ever? 

I watch him squirm, sleep, and scream and I find myself wondering, "Is this how Harlynn would have been? Would she have loved being held this much? Would her smile have been as sweet? Would she have been a spitter-upper?" I stare at, fall head-over-heels for, and adore my son. And I intensely miss my daughter. Does she know him? Is she the reason he smiles in his dreams? Will she ever visit me in mine?

I run on half-empty (or half-full, depending on your personality type...) at all times. "Babies are a lot of work" as Little Miss so eloquently put it. I have more moments of chaos than of calm. One weekend morning, as Brent was trying to let me sleep a little longer, I heard him exasperatedly say , "I just want to eat my breakfast!" I giggled to myself. Oh how familiar those words are to me every. single. morning. Some days, lunch is my breakfast. 

Just yesterday, I pulled a real doozy. We were trying to leave the house to make it to dinner at the home of some dear friends of ours. Little Miss was already at their house, so it was just us adults, and Little Man needing to be on our way. Coincidentally (ha!), right as it was time to leave, Little Man became hungry. As he screamed from his car seat, I realized I didn't have my socks or shoes on. Also, suddenly, I had to pee. I grabbed a pair of socks from my dresser before going into the bathroom to relieve myself. When I was done, I flung the socks across my shoulder, flushed the toilet, and turned to the sink to wash my hands. My dancing-jazz-type-turn was too much centrifugal force, the top sock kept going once I stopped, and went right down the toilet. I saw the whole thing. There was nothing I could do. There went my sock. Destination: sewer. I just flushed a cotton Hanes sock down the toilet. The toilet. My sock. Who does that?! Apparently I do. I grabbed another pair, threw myself together, and off we went. I am a mother who just flushed her own sock down the toilet. Lord, protect my children in this life, because I'm not sure I'll do all too swell a job at it...

I try to take it all in stride: the slip-ups, the sleep deprivation, the screaming, the.....screaming... My stride resembles more of a botched square-dance routine, however. Swing around, do-si-do, accidentally elbow someone or something, spin more circles, get dizzy, stomp a foot, clap, SMILE! Why are you crying? Why am I crying? Who made who cry, here? Yep. Stride. 

I am convinced that even though Adam and Eve rebelled against God in Eden, He took pity on them. You know how it is when your child disobeys or misbehaves and you follow through in disciplining them. Even though they were just a total stinker, it breaks your heart a little to lay down the law. I believe what Genesis doesn't tell us, is after He issued the consequences of sin, He said, "Let there be butter. Let there be cocoa. Let there be coffee bean, milk fat, and greasy burgers. Because I know (hence the phrase: "Lord knows") in the raising of their beloved children, they won't survive some days without these." And it was so. All of it was so. So

Through the celebrations, through the grief, through the crazy, and through the calm, I'm working on my stride. Mommy loves you, Harlynn. Mommy loves all three of her kids so stinkin' much

Now...where's that blasted cocoa?

Michelle Warren Photography

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Once Upon A Song

In this digital age, we're less inclined to go back and look at pictures we've taken. Michelle and I were talking the other day about this. Once pictures are snapped and stored, they become as much of a memory as the event they were meant to capture. Save for some scrapbookers and "non-conformists", pictures aren't even printed any more. Everything is digitally mastered, itemized, and stored away.  

My extended family has been communicating on a website built specifically for family communication, and we've recently been informed the site will be retired. I started going through the pictures we've posted to the site over the years and was flooded with nostalgia. So many memories. So many events. So many moments we thankfully captured. Maybe I should be taking more pictures so one day my kids can tell me I took way too many pictures, and then years later, be grateful I took so many pictures. And printed some.

Enough philosophizing. Here is a story of one piece my life as told through pictures. You're welcome.

Once upon a time...

(See what I did there? A picture with a clock, talking about once upon a time....and it's a picture of me and my Grandpa....I know, genius... By the way, that was my first New Years, and apparently neither one of us made it the final twenty minutes to midnight. We both conked out.)

I have always loved music. Always always always. When I was just a little tyke I used to sing Annie's Tomorrow over and over and over again. Mom had a little electric organ and I would sit down and plunk out tunes by ear. Singing in church has always been a favorite past time. I am so thankful (beyond spiritual reasons) for the musical influence of growing up in the church - I learned to harmonize, and sing a Capella. I have always loved music. If there was music somewhere, I was usually close by. My big hair funneled the sound directly to my ears, so I could pick it up no matter. I just knew that one day I was going to be bigger than Reba McIntire. I was going to have albums and concerts and fans and be on tour all the time. (Of course, with a stage name like "Val Butts", how could that not come to fruition??)

That's my Uncle Ron. He's always loved music, too. He had better hair than I did, and he played guitar. He also rode a motorcycle and even took me for a ride once. I have some pretty cool family members. Anyway, he would play guitar and sing for us, and sometimes he would play songs we could sing too. He has always loved music, and has written some wonderful songs himself. Come to think of it, I come from a pretty musically inclined family. Why did we never form a family band? Hmmm.

Eventually in school I joined choir, and sang to my heart's content every school day. I still remember entire choral pieces all these years later. It's kind of ridiculous. Ohhhhh magnum admirable sacrame-eeh-eeh-eeh-eeh-eh-eh-eh-eeehhh-eehhhhhn-tum. I sang our national anthem at school sporting events as often as they'd let me. I sang it before the demolition derby for a couple of years at our county fair. One older gentleman grabbed my arm as I walked back to my seat after one of those derby anthem performances. He said he was a WWII veteran, and that was one of the best anthem renditions he had ever heard. I started crying. (What? Me? Cry? How are there no pictures of me crying for as often as I do it?)

After Brent and I were married, I joined the worship team at church. Basically I was forced of the elders, who was also Chief of Police, told me I was going to show up for rehearsal. How could a person not after the Chief of Police tells you that you are? I showed up and told them all I was "just there to observe". That lasted about four minutes. The worship pastor invited me to sing with them. The rest is history. I loved - loved! - being on that worship team. The music, the singing, the people, and the pure, heart-felt worship every single week - I haven't experienced anything like it since. 

We moved away, and I fell off the wagon with my singing. Leaving Wyoming impacted me more than I realized. However, I had said if American Idol ever came nearby, I would audition. Well, guess what happened the same year we moved? Minneapolis, baby. My BFF, Tiffani, flew to Fargo, we drove to the Cities together, and she was by my side through the whole thing. We showed up and stood in line beginning about 4:30 a.m. We met this contestant, Janine, and her boyfriend. They were hilarious.

Then we went inside to scope out the competition. All several million-bajillion-quadrillion of them. No big deal...

Then after hours and hours of waiting, and seeing this famous guy named Ryan Seacrest, I finally got my turn. The producer was looking right at me, and I was keeping a brave face. She told me I had a strong voice but that I wasn't what they were looking for. Then she told all of us that none of us had what they were looking for that season. I smiled, I walked away, and when I got outside, I started crying. (See? All the time. How are there any pictures of me smiling when I just cry all the time?) Tiff came and found me, we walked back to the hotel room, and I slept off my sadness. Some chick named Jordin Sparks won that year. Her grandparents live in Fargo. Whatever.

I rebounded, though, because of this amazing thing called karaoke. I've even won a contest or two. This is my sister and I singing karaoke in Las Vegas. Outside. It was a hysterical evening, actually. When my sister sang Jessica Simpson's Angels Instead, she gathered a huge crowd, and put on a performance I will never forget. Then we sang Celine Dion's All By Myself....together, ironically.... and this picture captures the essence of our differences. I am all about serious vocal performance. She is about putting on a show. And she does a great job. 

In Wyoming, there was this bar called Whisky River, that had karaoke every week. When we'd go back home to visit, we'd go to this bar on karaoke night and sing. One time in particular, I remember a gentleman approaching my husband, and asking him if I was in a band. I think I was singing a Queen song (Fat Bottomed Girls) during his inquiry. That makes me laugh. I love karaoke, but I'm not sure how much it says about anyone's talent when the audience is a bunch of inebriated individuals waiting (impatiently) for their turn to sing Patsy Cline's Crazy, or Pat Benatar's Hit Me With Your Best Shot. It's especially difficult to tolerate an entire evening at karaoke when I myself no longer imbibe

When my sister had her big wedding ceremony, she asked me to sing for her and my brother-in-law's first dance. I was honored. I almost cried during the song. I powered through.

I went to a family reunion and got to sing with Uncle Ron and his band though. That was pretty cool. The funny thing was, it was my family, and I was so stinkin' nervous. Something about being surrounded by my relatives instead of strangers - like, I was going to have to see and talk to these people again no matter how good or bad I did - was so intimidating. Thankfully, no one disowned me as a result of my performance.

I never made it big. I never caught my big break. I never signed an autograph or had crazy stalker fans. I was *not* the next American Idol. That's okay, though. Truth be told, I got an even better deal. I have children now who I get to put to bed each night with a lullaby. I get to sing about how they're my sunshine. I get to sing songs about how much Jesus loves them. On a good day, Little Miss will even let me sing a song from Frozen with her. I married a man who can sing. I mean the man can SING. Our kids will always think we're crazy for busting out in song all the time. I don't have to sell records or have a better song than the competition, or wear racy outfits to plaster on album covers. I just have to cradle my kids, and sing a tune they might enjoy. That in itself makes me love singing even more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The World Needs More Fargos

If there had to be only one Fargo, I'm glad it's here, and I'm glad I happen to live in it. Let me just tell you a little bit about my day - one day - and give you the short list from the bazillion reasons I love this place.

After this (early) morning's thunderstorm passed through, Little Man decided he was pretty emotional about everything Mommy had to accomplish today and wasn't going to let me get anymore sleep. Have I mentioned I don't get much sleep? I feel like I need to mention I haven't slept.. Little Miss came downstairs and was upset she didn't wake up before her daddy went to work. She promptly got over that, though, and moved right into telling me she was really hungry and I needed to get up and get her breakfast. Oh sweet, dear child. I asked her what she wanted and then somehow made it to the kitchen, while trying to pull the half of my hair that had affixed itself to my face, back into the ponytail that once encased it. Then...I got a shower. I won't tell you how infrequently I get to take those compared to in my past life - but just know this really excited me today. Both kiddos were cooperative and I got to take a shower. Before noon even. Big day. BIG day.

We got ourselves situated and went to our family doctor. Little Man has been having some feeding issues and I needed to make sure it was nothing concerning, and wanted the observations I had made regarding his tongue and mouth evaluated. I cannot say enough good about our family doctor. I love her, I adore her, and not just her - but the entire organization and each doctor and nurse that work with her. They are amazing, they sit down with me for however long I need them to, they know (and always remember) me and my children, they listen to my concerns, they let me cry when I need to, they don't dismiss ANYTHING I say, no matter how ridiculous it may be, and they nurture (truly, nurture) us to our best physical health. I've lived in five different states, and out of all the doctors I remember, I have never come across any as special as these. Thank God they're in Fargo, and thank God we found them. In fact, I'm going to send them a card that tells them as much. More good news - Little Man appears to be better than I originally anticipated, though we are being referred to a specialist. 

We then returned home for some afternoon cuddles and to put Little Miss and Little Man down for nap. I needed to once again pump, and head to a very special ceremony. Once upon a time in the year 2012, I was privileged enough to be part of a women's leadership program put on by our local United Way & Women's Leadership Council. This program, 35 Under 35, changed my life and the lives of the 34 other women in my group. I have countless stories of how these women have supported me in the darkest days of my life, have rallied around me in support through good and bad since, and how the program itself inspired passions within me I didn't know existed. Today was a special day because Michelle was graduating from this year's 35 Under 35 program. I attended the ceremony 1.) because I love Michelle and 2.) because I love this program and everything it stands for. When I pulled in to the parking lot, I saw one of last year's alum. I caught up with her and she asked, "Did you hear what happened? Did you hear what they did to Michelle?"

I don't know about you, but I never associate those kinds of questions with good things. I'm a worrier, and when someone asks if I heard what they "did" to my friend and Harlynn's Heart partner, I immediately go to the worst, and get butterflies in my stomach. She then proceeded to tell me what they did.

One of our banks in town has a wonderful pay-it-forward program. All of their employees get money to pay-it-forward in the community. The last couple of years the employees get money, and then they get more money to give to someone else in the community so THAT person can pay it forward it to someone else. It's an awesome program, and one I've been indirectly involved with for the last few years (my husband is blessed to be one of their employees). Today, the CEO of said bank was a presenter during today's 35 Under 35 session. He gave pay-it-forward money to - how do I describe her? - one of the most compassionate United Way volunteer champions you'll ever come across, and she happens to be a fantastic president and leader of our local Dale Carnegie training. Seated next to her was the Resource Development Director for our local United Way, who also had in her possession pay-it-forward money. In a matter of minutes and with little to no discussion, the two decided to pool their funds and present them to Michelle for Harlynn's Heart. For our Little Organization That Could. For us to use for spreading hope, love, and healing to the hurting hearts of loss parents in our community. Right there as the story unfolded - in the parking lot - I started crying. 

Now, because I'm an alum of the program, and because I spent (and continue to as often as they'll allow me) so much time with these two ladies, I'm lucky enough to call them friends. Let's say at the risk of me coming across as somewhat stalker-ish, we are reciprocally friends. The fact that they believe so much in the mission of Harlynn's Heart, and in Michelle and I as stewards of that mission, means more to me than I can aptly express.

When I walked into the auditorium for the ceremony, I was greeted by new friends, fellow alum, and it just felt so comfortable. I chatted it up with dear, dear women who have come to mean so much to me over the last couple of years, and it made my heart full. To be there in support of Michelle, and in support of this program, was exactly what I wanted to be doing this afternoon. Even if I was doped up on the maximum dose of Ibuprofen. (Still recovering a bit from random surgery pain...)  Sitting next to me was my dear friend, fellow church mate, and 2012 35U35 alum, Katie. Last year we sat next to each other at the graduation ceremony as well. She held my hand as I cried during the speeches. This year, as apparently is our tradition, she sat next to me and held my hand as I cried during the speeches. 

Since living in Fargo, we've met people who have given us whatever they could or had available to help us out in times of need. We've made friends who have sat alongside us in support during the most difficult times we've ever faced. We've developed relationships with the most genuine, concerned, good-hearted people the midwest has to offer. My family loves visiting us, because they love spending time with and getting to know our friends. Our church family is just that - family. We are taken care of in Christ's love, no matter what we face. 

These are the kind of people Fargo brings to be. Genuine, loving, compassionate people. From my family doctor and her entire team, to a room full of inspiring, compassionate women. From the kids who draw pictures to leave on Harlynn's grave site, to the CEOs of major local companies. From the family I've become a part of at my church, to the stranger who hugged me after seeing the article in the newspaper about Harlynn's Heart starting. Even the very families who we long to help as Harlynn's Heart, give back to us - to me - in ways I can't express how much I appreciate. To be acknowledged as one of them, a loss mom, and not just "the woman who visited me in the hospital", is so powerful to me.

I don't even have time to talk about how this community bands together during floods or other crisis situations. Or how benefits for people in need bring together hundreds of people in support to rally around and provide for those who require it. And don't get me started on the support this area has for our NDSU Bison. This is a giving, generous, loving place. This is a community that CARES. It cares about its people. It cares about its future. It cares about little old me.

Thank God for Fargo. Thank God He led Brent and me here over eight years ago. Thank God for the people He has placed in this city, this community, and our path. The world could use a few more Fargos.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Getting There.

A year ago, I was just returning to work after maternity leave. It still feels weird to call it maternity leave. It was bereavement leave. I had no baby. I had no desire to return to work. I had no desire to do anything other than go to the cemetery every day. Sometimes multiple times. Brent and I were preparing for our trip to Faith's Lodge, where we experienced tremendous hope and healing after losing Harlynn. It was only a year ago. It still seems so fresh, and yet so long ago. Today, I'm home on maternity leave after delivering Little Man, trying to heal up so I can return to work. I'm looking forward to working again, and to what each day has in store for me and for our little family. It's a different place emotionally, but laced with so many similarities. 

I often feel like I'm walking backwards. I'm facing where we've been. I'm facing what we've been through, and where we've come from. I'm walking ahead, but with my back turned to the future. I have no idea where I'm going, how I'm getting there, or what's in store. I'm continually focused on what brought us here, that moment in the hospital, and how it forever changed us. Yet while I'm focused on it, I'm still able to progress ahead, even if it isn't the way others think I "should". 

I've found it is possible to take one step back and still move forward. I am moving forward...just doing it backwards. It's almost humorous, but I'm proof-positive it's entirely possible. I'm not turning my back on losing Harlynn or how it has shaped me, and I'm also not giving up on moving ahead in life. I'm getting there, even if it is a different way from everyone else.

I'm not avoiding the future, though, or what is has to offer. I'm still approaching it with curiosity, hope, and eager anticipation. I just choose to be more surprised than I would have before. That said, I'm still making consciously aware decisions regarding the paths I want to take...I just may not be able to see or figure out exactly how to get there.

You can join me in praying for these next steps I'm about to venture on - no matter how backwards my approach may seem to others.

For starters, it's high time my family get our health under control. Being pregnant for two years running has lent itself out to numerous cravings - none of which are healthy (save for the one time I craved broiled cod filets, and the one time I wanted a salad as a meal). Chili dogs, mini donuts, and milkshakes have all crossed my mouth (and mind) as absolute staples - must haves - to fuel myself. Yes, I only gained 20 pounds with Little Man, but that was after gaining more than 40 with Harlynn, and hardly losing any of it prior to becoming pregnant again. My cravings have led to poor nutrition for the rest of my family as well. Not just my cravings, but my lack of energy in desire while sorting through my grief. Then my lack of ability due to being on bed rest. Then from recovering from surgery. So....I owe it to my family to get us back on track, so we can be a family who healthily enjoys time together rather than wasting away in our own sea of blubber. (No more tubs of frosting for me...) I've done some research and have decided to adopt a plan I'm encouraged to try, stick to, and reap benefit from. Not just for myself, but for my household. If you'd like to check it out, visit Or, check out this sneak peek of a dessert I tried and loved, and figured that even as picky as I am, I can get on board with this plan. 

I'm not just looking to shed pounds, but I'm looking to adopt a way of eating that will satisfy our hunger and our cravings, and won't poison my family with chemically charged ingredients, and - let's be real - I have to have me some butter. This is a plan I can get behind, and their scripturally-based foundation isn't one to be taken lightly. So pass the butter, and the smaller pants, please...

Also, and this might come as a surprise, but I really enjoy writing. There's this little contest going on this month, and five winners get invited to a writer's luncheon, and an appointment with a publisher. I'm not saying I'd even make it past the first sentence in a judge's eyes, but I'd like to enter and just go for it anyway. So, I'm going to. I have no idea what I'll write. I have no idea what my submission will be. I just know I'm going to have one. The Lord hasn't revealed to me what I should write about, but I'm trusting He will. I've got one too many stories to tell, so His guidance is what I need to rely on for this.

I have a couple of weeks before I start working again, and could use your prayers that my adorable, lovable children, let me do things during the day. Little Man has a tendency to only want to be held, cuddled, or otherwise paid attention to. While I'm happy to oblige and cover his Little Man head in kisses, it has caused me to miss or severely delay meals, lose additional sleep, and force Little Miss to be more on her own than she would like. Little Miss, in her own right, has become more clingy, desiring more of my attention, and on top of that, wants to smother her baby brother in kisses and hugs. Additionally, I'm tied to a breast pump every few hours, and even if I schedule things between feedings or pump sessions, it's very hard for me to go anywhere. I'm really looking forward to being a contributing member of society again, so I need to find some sort of routine and balance in my first responsibility of being a wife and mother, so I can also excel at my other responsibility of being a worthwhile employee. 

I don't have the time to get started on the wonderful things that are happening with Harlynn's Heart and how that will be a better organization in the months ahead. Exciting things are taking place, and I'm honored to be a part of it still, a year later and beyond.

I'm going to keep taking my backward steps, though I'm sure in actuality, I've modified them to sideways now. This way I can see both where I've been, and where I'm going, and not miss anything in between. It's all a part of who I am today, and who I'll end up as later on. I'll get there.

Besides, the view from my side is pretty sweet...