Raise your hand if you’ve had a miscarriage

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Almost 25 percent of all pregnancies are lost to miscarriage and chances are if you’ve been part of this statistic, you’re not raising your hand. Not because you don’t remember the experience or because it happened many years ago. Instead, it’s likely your hand is staying down because you have feelings of failure, guilt and embarrassment caused by the experience. Not because it’s right or makes sense, but because it’s a natural reaction caused by stigma associated with miscarriage in our society. Those who have not experienced a miscarriage likely know of someone who has and begin to feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the word.

After visiting my doctor alone during my second pregnancy, I was delivered devastating news that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and from that moment, I started on a long and lonely road many women quietly travel.  Rather than face the issue head-on, I found myself attempting to hop back on the fast train in life as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t continue thinking about what was happening, but at the time, it was the only way I knew how to cope.

Four days after the news, I hopped on a plane like “super mom” to embark on a week-long business trip I had committed to many months prior. Leaving my two dogs, husband and one-year old at home, I traveled a few states away, secretly hoping the hole I was feeling would no longer be there when I returned.

It was.

The painting we had made, now hanging in our playroom in memory of our “firecracker”

I continued living in a fog for a few months until it eventually began to dissipate and I started searching for books on the topic. The selection was surprisingly limited; a first indication to me that there is something odd about the way our society approaches miscarriage. In short, we don’t. We duck, hide, whisper and ignore the topic to shield the pain, misunderstanding and confusion from our lives.

After browsing numerous bookshelves, I read I Never Held You, by Ellen M. DuBois. The book is personal, real and was exactly what I needed – confirmation I was not alone. Just as an article in the Huffington Post reveals, miscarriage does not discriminate. The article shares news of television anchor Lisa Ling’s recent pregnancy announcement and includes details about the feelings of failure she experienced after suffering a miscarriage in 2010.

If miscarriage happens to so many women every year, why did it take so long to find a book? Why is the topic of miscarriage off limits to talk about? Why must we stifle our voices to a whisper?

In the weeks following my completion of the book, I decided to break the rules, finding ways to share my experience with others – both men and women –when appropriate. Initiating a conversation appeared to relieve others of weight they had been carrying after they themselves or someone they knew had also suffered a loss in miscarriage.

This is the part I find fascinating. Here is an experience many women and men are faced with in life, but at some point are made keenly aware it is not a topic to talk about; at least not publically.

So here I am, 25 weeks into my third pregnancy, raising my hand and sharing this journey with you. If you’re still sitting on your hands, don’t worry; moving them is the first step. For those of you with a hand in the air, try this – keep your hand up, move from behind the computer screen and begin waving, even if only to one other person.

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Fighting breast cancer one tulip at a time

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Last October, I was moved by a conversation I had with a barista at Caribou Coffee about an initiative the company launched 17 years ago to raise awareness about breast cancer.

Rushing into the building, I practically jogged up to the counter that morning, failing to acknowledge the offer at the counter to support the initiative through the purchase of a special blend of coffee. Instead, I handed over my cash, grabbed my black cup of coffee and sat down. That was when a conversation between two women nearby pulled at my heartstrings; their own personal battle with breast cancer unfolding one word at a time. On my way out that day, I proudly purchased a bag of coffee.

Caribou Coffee, Facebook, breast cancer, tulip, garden, Amy Erickson

Photo credit: Caribou Coffee

Since my visit, I’ve learned Caribou Coffee continues to raise awareness about breast cancer and pay tribute to Amy Erickson,  a former roastmaster who sadly lost her battle to the disease. The company planted a garden filled with Amy’s favorite flower – the tulip – near Washington, D.C. last fall and invited customers to join the cause online. For every submission made via Facebook, a tulip was planted in support of finding a cure, expanding the reach and recognizing all who have been touched by breast cancer.

When you think of coffee as a product, community support may not naturally come to mind. But, when you think of coffee as a connector, it makes a difference.

Everything but the Kitchen

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I walked up to the big, intimidating brown door, carrying a pan of warm apple crisp dessert as its sticky juices leaked out the sides onto my hands. Christmas music played loudly behind me; young children laughing and skating circles on a small ice rink under bright lights and the moon.

As I approached the building, I noticed something. The window wrapping the front of the door was shattered. The glass was broken, but not enough to cause an opening. 

Gulp. 

There was a part of me wanting to turn around, get back in my car and drive safely home. But, I signed up for this and knew it would be an eye-opening experience. I was right.

After reaching the front door, I peered through the window. A young woman made eye contact and walked over to open the door for me. I smiled, introduced  myself and nervously asked to be directed where I might set down my leaking dish. An older gentleman walked down a hallway towards us and kindly showed me the way. But, moments later I learned I would need to first walk through a large gym before getting to the kitchen.

One big room, 25 mattresses; just as you see in the movies. Every mattress was accompanied by a notebook piece of paper torn from a tablet and taped above each pillow, labeled with a corresponding number. Women of all ages – young, old, crippled, healthy – sat on the mattresses, walked around the room, sang to each other or simply sat at one of the long tables set up nearby.

Bed Time...

As I weaved my way through the mattresses lined up on the tiled floor, I noticed some of the women gathered in a corner of the room. Piquing my interest, I stared long enough to see what they were doing. A volunteer sat in a chair as the women took turns having their fingernails painted.

“You look beautiful,” the volunteer said after finishing painting for one of the women.

I made my way to the kitchen, helped set up a buffet-style table of food and grabbed a cup of coffee.

One of the women quickly ran up to me, eager to hand me a brown paper bag.

“Would you like to read this?” she said, holding up a local newspaper with a square photo of her pictured in black and white on the front page. “One of the stories is about me and the path I’m on to make a better life.”

“Yes, I would love to take a look,” I said, smiling.

“There’s something else in the bag that’s a bit more personal, if you’d like to see,” she said.

Hesitant, I opened the bag and reached in to pick up a yellow piece of fabric.

“Would you like me to take it out of the bag?” I asked, unsure if the item was too personal for the rest in the room to see.

She nodded her head yes.

I picked up and unfolded the item, which I quickly recognized as an extra-large macaroni and cheese colored t-shirt covered in words and images, hand written with a black permanent marker. I fumbled the shirt a bit, so she snatched it out of my hand and held it up for me to see more clearly. The front of the shirt read “We are a family and we still love you”.

I nodded.

Tshirt #1 - Complete

She rotated the shirt, showing me the backside. My stomach dropped as I saw four little faces drawn on the fabric, and above the image, the words “If you love us, why do you make us black and blue?”.

I nodded again, unsure how to respond to a message so clear, yet so disturbingly sad.

She told me she made the t-shirt in therapy as a way to help her cope with life and start on the right path. As she placed the t-shirt back into the bag, a tall authoritative woman walked into the large room and signaled for everyone to gather in the middle of the room.

Without speaking, all of the women and volunteers (including myself) gathered between the mattresses and the tables and held hands. The woman who seemed to have authority began saying a prayer.

“Thank you Lord for bringing us together to a warm place tonight. Please bless this food and show us your grace through fellowship and the meeting of new friends. In God’s name we pray, Amen.”

How cool, I thought.

I, along with four other volunteers, took our position behind the long table with food. The women lined up single file on the other side of the table — plates in hand and manner in tact. We served our homemade chicken pot pie, garden salad and warm apple crisp and they thanked us for each serving.

“This smells so good,” one woman said.

“A home cooked meal is just what I need right now,” another said.

The women ate their meals while sharing fellowship. The dishes were empty, all food gone. I grabbed another cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables.

What can I possibly say to these women? I’ve never been homeless. And, while I’ve had extensive training and experience working with women involved in domestic violence, I’ve fortunately never had to experience it myself.

“How was the food?” I asked, feeling a little out of place.

All of the women at the table smiled and shook their heads as if approving of the meal.

And then it hit me – I was no different from these women. I am human and so are they. Our experiences should not define our being, who we are or who we hope to be someday.

“How was your day?” I asked the woman sitting next to me.

“Difficult,” she answered, attempting to ignore me.

“Well, it’s good to know you have a full stomach of good food.”

“Well yes, but I’d like my own kitchen and be able to cook for myself again. It’s hard being homeless. It’s heavy on your heart and your mind.”

I didn’t have a response and sat silent for a moment.

“Where are you all from?” I asked, seeking conversation.

One woman grew up in Ohio and another in South Carolina. I shared with these women, while now in North Carolina that I too was an “outsider”. I had recently moved to the state from Michigan less than one year ago with my husband and 15 month-old daughter.

“They were interested to hear more about my little girl and share with me stories about their own children.

“Guess how many children I have,” one of them said. I responded with a confused look and asking, “how many?”.

“Ten,” she answered, lowering her head as if it hurt to talk about them.

“I have four kids,” said the other woman – the one who had shared her personal item with me earlier in the evening.

“But…I haven’t seen them since 1997,” she said. “They are what keeps me going each day. I know I will see them again, but it’s about taking life one step at a time and I’m focusing on that.”

I instantly felt sadness and looked over at the woman next to me who had just shared she is a mother of ten. Tears fell from her eyes as she looked up.

“Thank you for sharing your story,” she said.

“You’re welcome; it’s a way for me to help myself, too. I am amazed when anything I do or say actually means something to another person.”

How true. And while I’m not sure if anything I said that night made a difference to those women, I left with an appreciation for my family, a warm home and for my very own kitchen –  used to make sticky apple crisp for new friends on a Friday night.

Coffee Shops Serve More Than Coffee

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The reasons people visit coffee shops varies: birthdays, gossip, therapy, relaxation, reading, studying, dinner, work…. and the list goes on.

This Seattle coffee shop aims to help veterans share their problems and treat the mental scars of war.

Missing Puzzle Pieces

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I recently came across a conversation similar to a puzzle with a few missing pieces. OK, maybe more than a few.

I generally don’t sit near the front of a coffee shop. The seat is convenient, but also comes with the sound of loud machines, a distracting cash register and a breeze every time the entrance door opens.

That is, unless it’s the only open seat in the place.

As I passed by a table of four before sitting down two feet away, something caught  my eye. The folks sitting next to me – two men, two women – were each holding colored notecards. Odd, but not too weird, I thought.

I went on about my business until I noticed two large school photos spread out in the middle of their table. One girl, one boy; both middle school age, flashing fake smiles in front of a dull blue background. What could they be doing? Playing a game with notecards. Yep, that’s it. 

That’s when I saw the writing on each of the notecards. “Food” on one. “Transportation” scribbled on another.

The four middle-aged adults were silent, holding and shuffling cards in their hands as if trying to decide on the next big move. It seems they are “ranking” the cards, placing them in piles based on importance.

“Pets are not a luxury,” one of the men said firmly. “I know it’s not OK, but it’s a reality.”

“They should have to pay something,” one of the women said in response. “Gas, electric, insurance.”

 

At this point, I’m moving further away from the notion this conversation is a game and closer to thinking the decisions being made at the table next to me would make an important impact on the lives of two middle school students. Maybe these individuals are giving away a scholarship, I thought.  

I kept listening.

“Where are we going to place travel soccer?” the second man at the table asked.  “And, what about braces?”

“We need to get her into a three  bedroom, 30-day apartment,” another added.

The conversation quickly turned from monthly expenses to a discussion about societal norms and their relation to the children’s situation — one I didn’t know anything about…. yet.

One of the men locked his shoe around the foot of his chair, sliding it closer to the table.

“It seems mothers have a hard time leaving their children, even if only for a few hours and fathers seem ok with it,” he said. “So, I understand you all have your own stress, but we need to think about the kids.”

Huh?

Just as it seems they are close to wrapping up the conversation and postponing the rest for a later date, they continue chatting, with one women becoming noticeably frustrated and beginning to dominate the conversation.

“He says all the right things,” she said, pointing to the picture of the young boy. “It’s all the stuff he knows you want to hear. I think it’s really a test.”

My “game” theory was gone. Scholarships had clearly been omitted from the realm of possibilities, too. So, what could they be gathering at this coffee shop to discuss?

The frustrated woman continued, sipping coffee between each statement.

“I feel stable in life if I can bring something to the party,” she said. “If he can’t bring something to the party he’s probably feeling used.”

The conversation continued, but  I could not hear the details over the loud coffee grinder. And then, the grinder stopped and the man, still loud as if trying to speak over the machine, said something to make me throw all of previous theories out the window.

“I’m assuming they are sleeping together,” he said.

Who is sleeping together? How does this even remotely relate to any of the details in the conversation previous to the coffee grinder?

I gathered more “pieces” to the puzzle, but they were more ad hoc details than added information to the story:

  • The boy’s father frequently tells him he needs to be more responsible;
  • One of the men at the table recently received a call at 11 p.m. on a Friday and he was concerned about the situation;
  • “She” – whoever that is – is the monkey in the middle; and
  • The boy’s father seems to think it’s OK not to have a relationship with his children as long as they turn out to be good people.

The four adults stood up and exchanged hugs before saying, “Let’s all get together again soon. We need to figure this out and make it happen.”

In my family, it’s an unsaid rule when putting together a puzzle that someone will hide a piece or two in their pocket until the very end. And, I’m beginning to feel that’s what has happened here, too.

Do you have a missing piece?

Have a Little Faith

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By now you’ve probably already started playing the tune of “Have a Little Faith” by John Hiatt in your head, if not humming out loud. Good.

This classic song, coupled with Mitch Albom’s book and new movie by the same title, serves as a good reminder of letting go of what we cannot control. What do I mean by this? I’m talking about putting all fears aside. Stepping out of comfort zones. Taking leaps in a new direction. And, just trusting — ourselves and others.

Too often the word “faith” gets associated with religion or belief. While I practice both of these things, I’m learning doing so is only scratching the surface of the true definition of the word. In his book Albom writes “”‘faith is about doing.  You are how you act, not just how you believe.”‘

Touché, my friend.  

Is “faith” — whatever the definition — hard to have? You better believe it. But, faith comes in many forms.

A little girl recently sat near her mother at a coffee shop and was visibly upset. Not upset in the way of throwing a child-like temper tantrum. This fit of expression seemed to have more substance than that. She sat with her mother and older brother in a small coffee shop, located inside a popular grocery store, running her tiny fingers through her unbrushed hair as if trying to avoid the topic of conversation.

The mother and her children were not ordering coffee or truffles. Instead, they bought a loaf of bread in the grocery store and were sharing the snack while waiting for the bank to open on the same side of the store.

“Mommy, is she in heaven now?” she said.

My ears perked up.

“Yes, hunny she has gone to doggy heaven,” her mother answered quietly.

My heart sank. Having been in the shoes of that little girl earlier in my life, I felt her pain. I didn’t know her dog and I didn’t know their story. But, I’m not sure I needed to. (I imagine their story is similar to this one of another little girl coping with the loss of a pet)

The clock struck nine ‘o clock in the morning. The mom and her two children stood up, pushed in their chairs and put the twist tie on the loaf of bread before starting to leave.

“Don’t forget the bread,” the boy said.

“Someone else needs it more than we do,” she said.

Faith.

As the holidays draw near, we are reminded of traditional religion and routine. But, not necessarily of traditional faith.

Following a life-changing move this summer, I will spend Christmas without my family for the first time this year. My husband will be working, and until about two weeks ago, my plan was to watch Christmas movies and listen to Kenny G’s Holiday CD with my 15 month-old daughter in our pajamas.

My daughter and I have received three invitations from families in our new city after just meeting. At first, I felt like they were offering because they felt they had to. Or, it was the “right thing to do”. But after one kind woman extended an invitation an hour after meeting her, I realized they are offering because they want to and might truly enjoy our company.

If this would have happened last year, I probably would have politely declined the offers and stayed home at the risk of feeling uncomfortable. This year, my daughter and I will spend time baking cookies to share with our new friends and celebrate Christmas in a new way. Not uncomfortable,  just different.

I challenge you to step out of your box this season and trust a complete stranger. Have a little faith.

And, watch this video. It’s sure to raise your spirits this holiday season.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

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“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

I sat in my own cozy coffee shop (also known as a living room with a pile of clean laundry on the floor) –  remote in one hand,  cup of coffee in the other.

In an effort to relax from a long day, I took at a look at my lengthy list of DVR recordings, settling on a new airing of Oprah Winfrey’s new “Life Class”series.

For those of you who don’t watch the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) or haven’t been (or won’t admit to) sucked in by the big surprises and controversial topics – Oprah Winfrey has launched a new network on cable TV. The new network still hosts shows accompanied by introductions so loud they sound like a whale in the middle of the ocean (Think: “You get a car, You get a car”). 

But, the  particular show I was watching isn’t as flashy. No special guests. No live audience. No giveaways. Instead, the show is a one-hour slot, with the objective to teach life lessons to viewers. Oprah’s the teacher, we are the students.

Today’s lesson? Stepping out of the box. A little cliche, if you ask me.

Throughout the show, Oprah posed this question to viewers: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.

My wheels starting turning….

All fears aside.
 

Worries out the door.

I started to make a list.

If I wasn’t afraid, I would:

  • Open a wine bottle with my face in front of the cork;
  • Run a second marathon…this time pushing my daughter in a stroller;
  • Eat more ice cream;
  • Sit down with a homeless person and ask them about their dreams;
  • Take my dogs for a walk – alone and in the dark;
  • Ride more elevators;
  • Write a book;
  • Swim with my eyes open and nose unplugged;
  • Wear sweatpants to work;
  • Sing in public;
  • Set up a lemonade stand;
  • Travel the world;
  • Pick up a penny that is face down;
  • Decline life insurance;
  • Change scheduled plans at a moment’s notice;
  • Try a new ethnic food every week;
  • Drive through the mountains at night; and
  • Go down a waterslide, on my back, head first.

The point is – what’s keeping us from doing these things?

What about you? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

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