Thursday, March 31, 2016

a real man

I received a very nice note from a woman who came across my story. At the end of her note, she wrote, "And kudos to your sweetie. Real men stand up with their women."

Her sentence made my heart swell. A complete stranger put into words the very reason I fell in love with my husband 9 years ago. 

I remember when I first approached James about sharing our story publicly. I needed to make sure I had his full support or I wasn't going to do it. He looked at me with that "oh here we go" face and I asked, "Bad idea?" He smiled and said, "It will be hard, but I wouldn't expect anything less from you."

One of the things I love most about James is he doesn't try to change me. I'm not sure why, but he loves me for me. He always says my passion is both my best and worst quality, and he's right. It's what makes me so loyal, allows me to love so deeply, and what fires me up in an argument. He knows that. And sharing Grace's story was no different.

I can tell James is struggling with our loss in his own way. I want to talk it out and he wants to leave it alone. But through our grief, I'm recognizing more and more that James is always standing strong right beside me, and he gently lifts me back up when I need him to.

He will come home from work and tell me "good post on the blog today." He will leave me secret notes on our milk in the refrigerator that says "I love you and believe in you." He scratches my back until I fall asleep when I'm having anxiety at night. He takes Joe into the other room when he can tell I just need a moment. He holds me when there are no words to make it better. James has the softest yet most prominent presence of any man I've ever met.

The night before the press conference, I practiced my speech with him at least 10 times. After my last run-through, I completely broke down. I'm not sure if it was nerves, or saying her name over and over, or just reliving the feeling of losing her again, but I sobbed. James hugged me tight as he always does. I looked up from his mascara stained t-shirt and asked, "What if I have a complete breakdown like this tomorrow and I can't continue?" He replied, "Then I will finish it for you."

Nashville's News Channel 5 beautifully captured my husband at work.
You can see the full clip here.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

a new title

I received a very beautiful letter from my Mom today, who is not only a raging liberal (which I say with love), but also a women's rights activist of her own time. In it she wrote, "Your titles are expanding...daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, wife, daughter-in-law, mother and now a new title, ACTIVIST."

Today I woke up with a pit in my stomach. You know, that twisted feeling of nerves that takes over your whole body. I couldn't shake it. I listened to Obama's "Fired up, Ready to go" speech on repeat while I got ready, then dragged Joe out of bed early. I wanted to allow myself plenty of time to drop him off at daycare, get downtown, park, and figure out where I was going.

I found a spot in a parking garage a few blocks away and read through my speech one last time alone in my car. When I practiced the night before, I was averaging about a 50/50 chance of crying, but this morning I felt different. I still got chocked up, but there was a rush of adrenaline that wasn't there before.

As I walked up to the State Capitol building, it seemed bigger and more prominent than I ever remember it looking. I had been there a few times when I helped do some marketing for the State, but I never stopped to really admire it.

I followed a group of grade school kids on a field trip through the front door and into the security line. They must have been around 7 or 8 years old and they all wore cute green and white plaid uniforms. Three little girls stood directly in front of me holding hands, and I couldn't help but feel the irony. There I was, about to give a speech about women's reproductive rights, and here were three little girls with their entire reproductive futures still ahead of them.

The fact is, 1 in 3 women in this country will have an abortion.

Once I got through security, I walked up the big marble steps to the 2nd floor and was greeted by my in-laws who had driven in from Indiana to support me. In a room full of cold politicians dressed in perfectly pressed suits, it felt so good to see familiar faces. My sister, sister-in-law, her friend and James arrived shortly after. It meant so much to me to have them there.

The press conference started and the Director of Planned Parenthood gave an overview of the program, then handed it over to two of the sponsors for a quick word. Then, I was up.

I can't even describe the mix of emotions I felt. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be, but I was much more emotional. It was a rush. All of the positive support I've received over the past couple months flooded my brain and I actually felt somewhat confident. And in a weird way, I was proud. I was there for Grace.

I knew getting to the part where I said her name was going to be the most difficult. I tried to brace myself for it, but it didn't help. The second her name fell out of my mouth, my eyes filled with tears and my voice started to crack. I couldn't help it. I should be saying my daughter's name to her sweet face as she snuggles against my chest, not in a speech about abortion. I made eye contact with James and with one quick nod of reassurance, I kept going. The rest of the speech was a blur, but I pretty much had it memorized so it flowed easily.

When it was over, I took a deep breath. I wanted to lay down in fetal position and just sob, but I went back into my survivor self and shook hands with the media. It seemed like everyone had tears in their eyes, too. One of the sponsors from the National Council of Jewish Women came over with her husband and gave me a hug. I learned that their story is very similar to ours, but theirs happened 18 years ago on this very day. More irony.

She told us she became a women's rights activist shortly after their loss, and I saw so much of myself in her as she spoke. Her and her husband were so kind and supportive, and we talked for a long time then exchanged numbers. She said she was headed to Washington, DC in May and asked if I would join her to share my story. I don't have details yet, but I told her I was 100% in.

After all, I'm an activist now.

Photos by Nashville's News Channel 5.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

it didn't happen for a reason

Everything happens for a reason.

I used to say it all the time and truly believed it. I used to tell it to other people who were struggling, thinking that it was somehow helpful. I used to find comfort in it -- yes, this hardship is happening, but something good is going to come out of it. It used to fuel me to get through life's setbacks and I'd desperately search for the meaning to everything. That all changed when I went through my miscarriage, and even more so now that I lost Grace. I don't believe it anymore. And honestly, every time someone tells me that "this is God's plan" or "it happened for a reason," I have resist every bit of urge not to punch that person in the face.

My daughter did not die for a reason. My daughter did not die so I could learn a life lesson. She died, and it was unfair. Shitty things happen to people everyday and the only thing we can do is try to pick up the pieces and move forward. Everyone's challenges are unique and different, but I'm beginning to believe that there is no rhyme or reason for any of it happening. I think we as humans are put on this earth to endure hardship, and it is our choice whether or not that hardship is going to destroy us or strengthen us.

It didn't happen for a reason. It just, happened.

I received this card from a friend a few weeks ago.
It might be my most favorite card ever. <3

Friday, March 4, 2016

what's it worth

I'm starting to think I've completely lost my mind. Is any of this worth it? I think people forget that I said goodbye to my daughter only 8 short weeks ago. Which for me, feels more like 8 minutes ago.

I'm still raw and the pain still lingers. I can still feel the oxygen being sucked out of my lungs as I heard the words, "Your daughter won't survive." I can still feel the warmth of my tears as I asked James to take one last picture of my belly in the cold hospital bathroom. I can still hear the desperation in James's voice as he said his last goodbye. I can still feel my stomach drop in the elevator as I left the hospital empty-handed. I still touch my stomach throughout the day to remind myself that she's really gone. Newborn faces and pregnancy announcements on my newsfeed still make me cry. I still can't look at my daughter's urn that's inside a box on James's nightstand. I've only looked at it once, weeks ago. My unwashed maternity clothes still hang in my closet because I can't find the strength to wash something that was once so close to my daughter.

I should be 27 weeks pregnant and glowing. Not fighting a fight I never wanted to fight.

I feel like I'm at a crossroads with myself and I don't even recognize the reflection in the mirror. The Hadleigh I was before January 5th was passionate about what she believed in. She was confident and thick-skinned. She spoke her mind, regardless of the consequences. She would have never quit because it got hard. As a friend jokingly put it, she was a "bad-ass bitch." But here I am, exposed and vulnerable, asking myself, "What difference can one voice make?"

It's easy to get caught up in the politics of it all, picking a side and then defending it. But this isn't about some political stance or what you think you would have done in my situation. I had a daughter and she died. And it's terribly painful and sad losing anyone you love, regardless of how it happened. 

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the type of mother I would have been to a little girl. I only know the mother I am to Joe, and I know she would have changed me. Trucks would have been traded for dolls. All of those cute little dresses at Target would have finally made their way into my shopping cart. She would have been dressed head to toe in lace and florals. But more importantly, I would have made it a point to tell her she's beautiful every single day. I would have made sure she had confidence and self-worth. I would have done everything in my power to raise her to be a strong woman, because in a world full of people who are cruel and judgmental, who are too coward to speak their own truths...I would have wanted my daughter to be a bad-ass bitch.

And so I press on.

Perhaps I have lost my mind...or maybe  I'm just starting to find it.

                                                       (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
Three of the baddest bitches take charge in the Supreme Court. Read about it here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

who chooses?

I have received an outpour of support for my letter to pro-life activists, so I first want to thank you all for reading and sharing my story. It's been extremely difficult reliving the loss of my daughter, but I firmly believe there needs to be a change. And for that reason, I will press on.

As expected, some responses were extremely positive and others extremely negative. Both, I feel, are a win. The topic is being considered and discussed.

I feel the need to address the comments that seem to fall somewhere in the middle. These are the comments that go back to the point I was trying to make in my letter.

"I'm so sorry that happened. You should have never been forced out of state. Your situation should have been considered an exception to the law."

Now, I don't want to turn this little space I've created into a political mine field. I understand everyone has a right to their own beliefs, and I appreciate you even taking the time to read my story, let alone comment. I also understand that this comment comes from a good place. But with that said, as a mother who has actually lived through this scenario and has heard other women's similar stories in my support group, I feel the need to point out a major flaw in this thinking and how it would impact people like me.

The moment we add exceptions to the rule is the moment the choice gets put back into someone else's hands. 

Let me try to explain. If the law states abortion is illegal unless the baby has a severe prenatal diagnosis, I would then be relying on my healthcare provider to decide whether or not my prenatal diagnosis is severe enough. My healthcare provider would choose whether or not they believe my situation is morally and ethically acceptable to be deemed an exception. Now, depending on your healthcare provider's background, experience, religion and political stance, that decision would vary greatly.

Through my support group, I have had the unfortunate privilege of learning how much can actually go wrong during a pregnancy, all of which I never considered before Grace. Some diagnoses result in pregnancy loss like mine, some result in loss shortly after delivery, and others result in a child that is either severely disabled, live a life full of suffering, or both. What one person considers severe may not be the same as another's.

This goes back to the Tennessee law as it stands today. The law states:

Code Section 39-15-201 to 209; 37-10-301 to 307
Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion First trimester: with woman's consent upon advice of her M.D. After first trimester and before viability: with same, but in a hospital. After viability, only if necessary to preserve life or health of mother.

The Tennessee law makes it illegal for women to have an abortion at a clinic after her first trimester, or 15 weeks. At that point, women are forced into having the procedure in a hospital, limiting accessibility across the state. Many hospitals do not have the appropriate staff to perform the procedure and others have the right to deny it, leaving women like me forced to go out of state. After viability (which isn't defined), it's only legal if necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. If I continued my pregnancy, my risks of infection, hemorrhaging and other medical issues, including death, would have increased. Would I be considered an exception under "preserved health of mother?" I'm sure everyone's answer to that question would be different.

The only way to protect a woman in my situation is to give all women complete autonomy of their reproductive rights.

I encourage you to understand the abortion laws in effect in your state.