25 November 2016


Caleb, my tiny 43 pound 8-year-old step son just came into my office with his shark body blanket pulled up around him.  He looked like he was being eaten.

He said, "are you still sad that she (Sawyer) died?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Do you need a hug?"  he said.

"Yes buddy, I need a hug."

The then wrapped his tiny arms around me as I sat in the chair and he stood besides me.  He gently rubbed my back and said nothing for a couple of minutes.

All I could do was bask in the thoughtful sweetness of the moment and think about how Sawyer was also a tiny kid, perhaps the tiniest. But her smile lit up the room like the sun on a cloudy morning.  She, her soul, her personality was that big.  As big as the sun.  You felt warm every time she looked at you.  Every time she smiled at you.  My heart breaks knowing her family is devastated.  Knowing they have entered the long dark shadow of grief.  Grief is cold and relentless.  It grips you in the most innocent of moments and tears you to the core.  It reorganizes your sense of time and leaves you disoriented, lost in the murk of uncertainty between what is and what was.

Grief teaches us that the most powerful scripture consists of two words, "Jesus wept".  

Today many weep.

18 November 2016

A Thank You Note

Dear Ultrasound Technician,

I am so sorry that I do not remember your name, or your exact title, but I wanted to send a note and thank you for being so kind to me.  I came in on Monday 10/24 for an ultrasound and meeting with Dr. Eisenhauer.  Even though this was my first pregnancy I knew I was having a miscarriage.  My friend had told me that when she had a miscarriage her ultrasound technician was cold and clinical so I should go in prepared for the worst on all fronts. But you were the exact opposite.

I came to the appointment alone.  I like to be independent and stalwart and told my husband he didn’t need to leave work because we both knew the dreaded outcome.  I figured this knowledge was enough to get me through.  But I grossly underestimated how seeing the little bean on a screen would simultaneously make the pregnancy and the loss of the pregnancy viscerally real. 

My husband and I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant.  I am of “advanced maternal age” and he is a testicular cancer survivor.  We figured we would never be able to have a child.  So when I took a pregnancy just a week before and it came back positive, we were in shock.  So I took two more pregnancy tests. We gingerly talked about our hopes for a boy or a girl.  How we thought we would be as parents.  How we would arrange our lives to accommodate this beautiful surprise.  We also talked about the reality of my age and the increased risk of having a miscarriage.  He didn’t want to tell anyone that we were pregnant.  I couldn’t contain myself and told my sister and best friend. 

I called the baby “Squeaky”.  And for several days I carried my secret little Squeaky and the motherly dreams that come with planning a child’s future.

But Squeaky wasn’t real.  He/she was just an idea.  Until I was there, in your office and you showed me the screen, and the sack, and that there was no heartbeat.  And you were kind.  And gentle.  And I did my best to be stalwart.  But my heart betrayed me and I couldn’t contain the gravity of that moment.  I was pregnant.  Squeaky was real.  And for whatever reason Squeaky had died.  

I had no idea how heavy, how alone, how devastating that moment would be.  I instantly regretted not having my husband with me.  I was caught off guard by my reaction to that moment.  And I started to cry.  And you were kind.  And gentle.  At one point you touched my shoulder and said it wasn’t my fault.  And I needed that.  I needed someone to touch me, to ground me in that moment, to speak to the guilt and anguish that overwhelmed me.  And you did that.  You were perfect.

I am a therapist.  I specialize in grief, loss, and trauma.  I have worked with women who have gone through infant loss for years.  I am full of book knowledge about how to help people.  But at that moment I could not help myself.  So thank you for being so gentle with me and the situation.  Thank you for saying not only the right thing, but the comforting thing.  Thank you for helping to hold the heaviness of that moment.  I have no doubt your day is full of extremes.  People elated, and people devastated.  I know what it’s like to sit with the devastated, but I’m accustomed to being on the other side of the equation.  When the table was turned I was filled with gratitude that you were the one there. 

I may never meet you again.  But I wanted you to know how much you and your kindness means to me.  Over the last week and a half my heart has been rent in twain.  I cry…a lot.  I have a hard time thinking.  I see pregnant women and reminders of my loss everywhere.  But amidst my grief I am full of gratitude for the gentle souls who have offered me comfort through this process.  You being the first.  Thank you. 

Carrie L. Hanson-Bradley

14 November 2016

Little S

Dear little S,

Today was suppose to be the day.  The day your dad and I were to go to the doctor's office to see you for the first time.  But while today happened, you obviously didn't make it this far.  I've been needing to write this for weeks now. But I've just been keeping it in my head and in my heart.  But today seems like a fitting day to put it down.

You were a total and complete surprise.  I never thought you would happen.  I'm old, your dad has had cancer. The statistics are against us.  But here is your story...

I had a hunch I was pregnant about three weeks in.  I was more emotional and tired than usual (and that is saying something).  I blamed it on the diet I was doing, but in the back of my mind I wondered if it was you.  I waited a few more weeks before I took the test.  I didn't tell your dad about my hunch.  I felt awkwardly strange about it and didn't want to make a big deal out of anything.  So on Wednesday October 19th I bought the 88 cent test at the store and went back to your grandparents house (we were there visiting the kids and family) and I took the test.  First one line showed up...then the second one.  And I started to panic.  I wasn't sure what to do next.  Your dad was occupied and I couldn't pry him away...so I did the next logical thing.  I texted Lori.  I needed someone to share in the freaked out excited panic I was feeling in that moment.  And I knew Lori was that person.  Her response did not disappoint.  She was as shocked as I was.

I knew I needed to tell you dad so as soon as he was available I snatched him up and forced him into the bathroom.  I looked at him and said, "I'm not sure how to say this," and then I pointed to the test.  He was also shocked.  I told him I hadn't told him sooner because I wasn't sure and I wanted to be sure.  I started to cry, he wrapped me up in his arms and gave me a big squeeze.  I told him I wasn't sure how to feel about it. He told it would be ok.  I told him I wasn't ready.  He told me it would be ok.  I panicked.  He remained calm and told me it would be ok.

It didn't seem real. You didn't seem real.

S, I have to say, I have never felt so in love with your dad as I felt in that moment.  You see, your dad is one of the kindest, calmest souls I have ever known. That's one of the reasons I married him.  I also married him because he is one of the best dads a child could ever have.  While I questioned your future with me, I was excited for your future with him.

I told him we needed to be sure, we needed more tests, more data points.  So we went to the store and I took another test.  It was also positive.  So I called the doctor.  I told them that I was "of advanced maternal age" and expressed my fears.  They offered me a warm congratulations and told me it was all going to be ok.  I told them that I had plans to do a 1/2 marathon on the following Saturday, the doctor said that it was fine for me to do the race, but to take it easy.  I laughed, I always take it easy when I race.  My only goal is to cross the finish line.  This time I would be crossing it with you.

It didn't seem real.  You didn't seem real.

We had family pictures that night.  I remember thinking, "what a happy coincidence!  We can all be captured on this awesome day".  We purposely did awkward family photos, because sometimes we are funny like that.

I called you Squeaky.  I name almost everything and for some reason Squeaky seemed appropriate.  After all, you were just a little pip-squeak of a being hidden somewhere deep in my body.

But you still didn't seem real.

For the next few days your dad and I talked about whether we had hopes that you would be a boy or a girl.  We discussed how we wanted to raise you. How genetically you were probably destined to be a super intelligent, but anxious disaster.  I said my one wish was that you could win the recessive gene lottery and have my eyes.  Justin told me not to count on it.

I thought about you, what life would be like.  How I would decorate your nursery.  How I would hold you for hours on end and savor each moment.  How I couldn't wait to show you the world.  I thought about the places we would travel and the people you would meet.  I pictured walking you down the street to school on your first day.  I thought about how I wanted you to be interested in dinosaurs and art and music and creativity and science.  I thought of how much you would love your dad.  I thought of your whole life.

I was also anxious.  Anxious about how you would change our lives.  Anxious about how unprepared I felt physically. Anxious about being anxious.  So I did my best to stay calm because I didn't want to be working on your neurodevelopment while swimming in a sea of anxiety.

But you didn't seem real.

Your dad and I are scientists.  We discussed how miscarriage was a possibility.  He was adamant about not telling anyone.  I couldn't keep you to myself. So I told Merianne and Natalie about you.   Mer was ecstatic. She was excited in the way only a best friend can be excited.

Saturday came and I went to the race.  It was 13.1 miles of downhill grade.  I was unprepared for the race (I'm typically unprepared for most things).  But I was with Lori and Natalie. We talked and laughed and jogged and walked and talked about you.  Your dad and siblings were suppose to be at the finish line.  But the kids didn't want to come and your dad was confused about where the finish line was.  I laughed, he can be silly at times.  I remember thinking that at that moment you would forever be my favorite child, because you were the only one who cared enough to support me in that race...even if it wasn't your choice.

Sunday came and we set out on a 14 hour drive back to Nebraska. When I woke up I had some stomach pains, and was passing some old blood.  My heart sank and I told your dad I thought I might be having a miscarriage.  He said he was sad and gave me a hug.  We attempted to normalize the situation. After all, we are scientists.  Your dad and I know statistics. We knew the likelihood of miscarriage in the first semester. We knew the increased risk of miscarriage based on my age. We knew that this was a common occurrence.  We knew.

And I thought it was ok, because you didn't seem real.

Your grandfather was teasing me as I was trying to load the car.  I felt so overwhelmed at that moment. I wanted to look at him and scream, "this isn't funny!  Life, my babies life, is slipping from me."

But even in that moment you didn't seem real.  And my mind was full of confusion.  Society says you're not real until you're born.  You're not viable until after 20+ weeks gestation.  At that point science labeled you as "fetal tissue".  And you can't grieve that.  But there I was, filling with diminishing hope and sadness.

Half way across Wyoming I started bleeding fresh blood.  Not a lot, just a little.

I told myself it was ok, because you didn't seem real and lots of women experience this.

I did my best to not cry the whole way back to Nebraska.  I had a job interview the following morning and I needed to hold myself together.

I got up Monday morning, put on my best clothes, a smile on my face, and I went to that interview. And I did my best to sell myself to the company.  I shared with them my knowledge and my experience.  I was a good fit for the position.  I left with confidence.

I found a Tommy heart as I walked.  He knew I needed the reminder that good things can come from tragedy.

When I got home I called the doctor. The nurse said it is often normal to bleed a little during pregnancy and that I shouldn't totally worry until the doctor saw me.  So they scheduled an ultrasound for that afternoon.  I sent your dad a text and said I would go to the appointment.  I didn't think he needed to come with me.  I knew the statistics.  I knew.  The doctor wasn't going to tell me anything I did not already know.

I thought I would be ok, because you didn't seem real.

So I went to the doctor and I sat in the waiting room surrounded by women with swollen bellies and photos of their ultrasounds.  All except one woman. Her stomach was flat, like mine. She was in tears. She moved uncomfortably.  She was in physical and emotional pain.  She was just like me.  I wanted to reach out and say, "you too?  You're not alone in here, you're not alone".  But I didn't.  I sat in silence until my name was called.

The ultrasound tech came and led me to the ultrasound room.  I got up on that hellishly awful table and put my feet in the stirrups.  That's when I started freaking out.  I had forgotten to wear socks.  "I didn't wear socks!"  The tech smiled and said it was ok.  I could keep my shoes on.  My dirty, smelly, worn out Sanuks.  I wore them because they are like old friends.

That's when I saw you.  And I hated myself for being so foolish for not bringing your dad.  Because there you were.  On the screen.  You were larger than I had anticipated.  And all of a sudden you were real.  Oh my god were you ever real.  And I lost it.  I started crying.  I couldn't be strong in that moment.

"There is the baby", she said, "there is the sack" she said, "you're measuring 6 weeks and 4 days."

That was the day of the race.

"There is no heartbeat".

You died the day of the race.

I cried harder.  I could tell the tech was uncomfortable. She told me she didn't want to send me out into the waiting room so to get dressed and she would go and check on another room for me.  I wanted to ask her to print your ultrasound picture.  I wanted to have it.  But I was too shy to ask. I thought it would be weird.  So I snapped a photo.
And then I broke into sobs. The tech came back and all I could say was, "was it the race?  Was it the race that did this?"  She gave me a hug and said that it was just a cruel coincidence.   I needed that hug.  I needed that human connection.  She said she was sorry and that it was ok for me to be upset.  I needed that permission.  In a horrible, unprepared moment, this stranger gave me exactly what I needed.

I met with the doctor who gave me some instructions and reiterated the statistics.  I thanked her and then left.

Did you know the doctor has a special side door for people like me?  A special door you can go out of so you don't have to go back through the waiting room.  I recognize the mercy in that door, but I was also mad and upset that I had the privilege of walking through it.  No one wants that privilege.

I drove home and tried to do some work.  Then I went to a therapy appointment.  Then I mottled through two days of clients.  All while experiencing something no one ever prepares you for.   For three days I lived in fear of when it would happen, when you would finally come.  And nothing prepared me for when you finally did.  I sat there, looking at you.  I could see your little eye, and your little arm and leg buds.  I could see you.  And then you were gone.  You were so delicately made that within minutes you had disappeared.  All I kept thinking was, "like a silverfish you turned to dust".  I asked your dad what we should do.  I wanted to bury you, but I thought he might find that idea weird.
He hugged me.  S. he hugged me like only your dad can.  And I cried. And he was strong.  And he was perfect in that moment.

So I made you a box.  I lined it in some of my favorite white paper and then wrapped it up.

It was strange.

And then your dad and I put you in the ground on the side yard.  The section where we had already planned to turn into a reading nook. That is where you rest, that is where you will always rest.
Your cute dad suggested we get a picture of the three of us.  So we did.

I look at your resting place every time I go outside.  I put the random "Welcome" rock the neighbors snuck into our yard over you.
Maybe "Welcome" is appropriate.  While you were small you were not insignificant.  While you were mostly an idea, you were real. We welcome you into our hearts forever.  So welcome little one.

I cry.  A lot.  I think about you.  A lot.  I miss our possibilities as a family.  A lot.

And I want you to know this:
You are loved.  You are missed.  And you matter.  For me, you will always matter.  For a brief moments I was an almost mom.  You made me an almost mom.  And I never thought I would even have that.  Thank you sweet little one.  

Thank you.

07 October 2016

Sometimes, when I'm alone, and I'm alone a lot these days, I cry.  I fill with a pathetic grief over things I have lost.   I feel that my memory is slipping, or maybe I'm detracted, or depressed.  Either way, I cry.  I cry because I sit and stare at this screen and the words don't come.  They don't formulate themselves the way they use to.  I don't create.  I don't feel like creating.  I'm like a bucket that has been poured out, emptied.  

I'm empty.

Blank mind.

Blank heart.

I try to rationalize that it was 5 years in a mind and soul crushing PhD program followed by a year of dissolution and disenchantment.

Perhaps it's the realization of the depth of my weakness, how little it took to break me.  How little meaning there is to life, to love, to anything.

It all seems so insipid and shallow.

Where once I found beauty, I now find void.

Me, a girl who sits in her dream house, on a street made for movies, surrounded by safety, and the love she begged God for 20 years to send.

I feel pathetic.  And utterly terrified.

17 May 2016

Birds, Corners, and Depression

The post I started in June 2015:

As I went to leave this morning I discovered a frantic bird trapped in my garage.

He was panicked.  His heart visibly beating in his chest.  His wings drenched with sweat.  

I spent 20 minutes talking with him.  Pointing out how smart and strong he was, but how he was using his skills in the wrong environment.  "You have to fly lower if you want to get out of that big open door", I kept saying.  He was perched as high as he could get in the corner of the garage, his face almost pressed into the ceiling.  "Look, I get you're use to thinking in terms of up, but if you want to find happiness you'll need to open up your mind to the idea of going down for a bit.  You can't see what's really available to you, because you're looking at the problem too closely".  We engaged, back and forth with him frantically flying, then stopping, heart beating visibly in his chest.  "I get it little bird.  I get it.  I'm just as trapped and panicked as you are.  I've been operating in an environment that isn't healthy for me for a long, long time.  I've been trying to make it work, make me work, but the reality is, I'm stuck in a corner, staring at the ceiling, and wondering why it doesn't feel right."

The post I'm starting today:

I'm still like that bird, only instead of up, I'm down.  Way, way down.  More down than I've been in years.  I realize it doesn't matter what corner I stare at, be it the high or the low one, I'm still just staring.  Still frantic.  Still panicked.  And it doesn't feel right.  Depression makes it so nothing feels right.  Nothing.  I'm like that bird, stuck.  I'm looking at the problems...all of the problems, too closely.  They are all I can see.

The bird got out.

Hopefully one day I will get out too.