Dear Maggie – Listen to Your Mother Edition

12 05 2013

Last week I performed in Utah’s first Listen to Your Mother show. It was an amazing experience, and since most of you were unable to be there, I’d like to share what I read.

Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality
– Emily Dickinson

You don’t know about Maggie.

You don’t know that years ago, I carried a little girl in my womb. For 20 weeks I cherished my unborn baby and dreamed of the bright future ahead.

Then I got sick. So very sick. After a week in the hospital, I returned home to the 1970s single-wide trailer with the bordello-red shag carpet. I brought with me flowers and cards and breasts aching with milk.

I did not bring home Maggie.

Dear Maggie,

I write a letter to you every October, because that’s when you were born. This year it occurred to me that if I’d carried you to term, your birthday would actually be in the springtime. For some reason that makes my heart a little lighter.

I’ve been thinking about you lately—about what it would be like to have a 12-year-old daughter. To be honest, I find the idea downright terrifying. Boys would be interested in you! You would be interested in boys! And Justin Bieber! (I guess technically he qualifies as a boy.) You would probably make me take you to a midnight showing of every Twilight movie!

A shudder just passed through my body.

But all might not be lost. Maybe I could convince you to listen to a little bit of Muse, or a few bars of The Black Keys. We could watch Pitch Perfect together and swoon when Jesse takes the microphone for the first time because oh my gosh Skylar Astin is just so adorable.

I often imagine what your personality would be like. I envision a real chatterbox—a girl I’d nickname “Magpie.” That’d probably piss you off and every time I called you that in front of your friends you’d say, “Mo-om” in that way that only tweens and teens can use to express utter mortification with their mothers.

And that would just make me do it more often, because I’m pretty much the most awesome mom ever.

Four months ago I got my first tattoo. It’s a magpie, and the words “alis volat propriis” – Latin for “she flies with her own wings.” It reminds me of you. I smile every time I see it.

Would you be a reader like I’ve always been? I’m pretty sure at 12 I was going through my Sweet Valley High phase. Yes, I just publicly admitted that. At least it wasn’t the Babysitter’s Club.

Would you be an athlete? That would be unusual, given the complete disinterest your father and I have in sports, but we’d encourage whatever you pursued. We’d want you to be well-rounded and happy. I’d even learn the rules for whatever sport you played so I could properly cheer you on.

Cheer. Oh, hell. What if you became a cheerleader? Do they do that at 12? That’s still too young, right? Or do they do some sort of junior cheer crap?

Wait. Deep breaths. I just got worked up that my dead daughter might want to be a cheerleader. It’s possible I have some issues.

12 was a terrible age for me. I felt ugly and lonely and picked on and sad. I withdrew into myself and hid in my books. What if you felt ugly and lonely and picked on and sad? How could I bear it? How could I possibly handle your pain? The thought is overwhelming.

There are times I look at the 12-year-old girls around me and I think that God knew what he was doing when he took you from me. I’m not cut out to raise a girl, much less a prepubescent one with hormonal mood swings.

I feel terrible when those thoughts enter my head. I should never think you being gone is for the best. Never.

I imagine your relationship with your little brothers. Big G is seven now, and a wonderful—though quirky—kid. He’s been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, you know, and I wonder if he’d annoy the living daylights out of you with his endless questions and complete lack of respect for personal space. I hope you’d see and embrace the beauty in him.

Little G is five, and he’s pretty easygoing as long as he’s getting his way. He has such a loving nature and wants to be everyone’s friend. I think he’d be your little buddy. I hope you’d be patient with him as he talked your ear off and told you about his new friends and sang the songs he learned in preschool yesterday.

During the last year I’ve told your brothers all about you. Little G asks where your house is and when he’ll get to meet you. He wants to buy extra toys so you can play with them when you’re alive again. I think he’s a little bit too young to grasp the whole death thing, but Big G mostly gets it.

When I found out I was pregnant, I hoped for a lifetime to watch you grow. I thought I’d rejoice at your first words and grow weary of your teenage chatter. I’d watch your hesitant steps as a toddler, then your initial wobbly steps in heels. I expected to grin at your first toothless smile and wince at the bill for your braces. I wanted laughter and dancing and joy  so incandescent it lit up the world.

I didn’t expect questions like, “Would you like pictures? Would you like handprints and footprints?Would you like to have a burial, or would you like us to take care of her remains for you?”

I’ve rapidly learned that motherhood is rarely what I expect.

Twelve years. Twelve years is a long time to miss someone. I don’t cry as much these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. It just means I’ve learned to live without you. It’s a horrible thing to learn.

I miss you so very much, Magpie.



*This is not my usual funny footnote, and for that I apologize. As many of you know, I almost lost my life when I lost Maggie. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident, even in the United States. In fact, the US is the most dangerous industrialized nation in which to give birth. My dear friends Anne and Jennifer are currently working on a documentary called Unexpected that highlights this crisis. Anne asked that I share this with you:

save a mother 2

A Girl Named Sue

15 04 2013

After my three pregnancy losses, I decided I needed to fill my life with something productive. Volunteer work made perfect sense.

I became a rape crisis worker. I became a victim advocate.

I became a Child Mentor at the Utah County Children’s Justice Center.

“The Child Mentor Program is designed to provide support to children who have been through child abuse investigations. A Child Mentor’s role is to be a friend, a positive influence, and a reliable and consistent presence in the life of a child. Mentors are assigned a child to work with one-on-one, on a weekly basis, for six months. Mentors are encouraged to participate in fun and healthy activities with the child. Going to story-hour at the public library, getting an ice cream cone, or going roller-skating are some of the things the mentor and child may do together.

The point is to have fun and be ready to listen. As a mentor, you are in a position to let the child know that you are there for them if they need help. As a friend, you are in a position to let them know that someone really cares.”

Sue (obviously not her real name, because…duh) was around seven years old. Once a week I’d pick her up and we’d go swimming, miniature golfing, roller-skating. We never really talked about anything important or deep, and that was fine by me. What do you say in that situation? “Sorry you were sexually abused. You really shouldn’t learn how shitty this world can be until you’re much older.”

Probably not so much.

So we went out and we had fun, and it was good.

Except it wasn’t. Not for me. Whenever I spent time with Sue, I watched her.

Sue’s mother managed the apartment complex where they lived. She was gone most of the day dealing with problems, but close enough to leave Sue at home by herself. Because her mother managed the apartments, Sue knew most everyone who lived there and felt very comfortable. Every time I picked her up, Sue’s front door was wide open—even when her mother wasn’t home.

Sue had no fear of strangers. Male, female, young, old—Sue would talk to anyone about anything.

Sue had no boundaries. She once tried to set me up on a date with a stranger we met while we were roller skating, knowing full well I was married.

Everything I saw made me think the cycle was set to repeat, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. She was so young and so trusting—even after all she’d been through—and I was scared for her.

I finished my six month commitment as Sue’s mentor and I left the Children’s Justice Center (CJC). I’d love to tell you there’s an uplifting and fabulous ending to this story, but there isn’t. I often wonder what’s become of Sue. She’s nearly an adult now. I hope she’s well.

I tell you this story because I want you to know about the CJC. It’s located in Provo and it’s an incredible place where kids who have been abused can hopefully start to feel safe again. They’ve made it so kids don’t have to go to the police station and give statements to multiple parties. Kids can sit in a room with teddy bears and a couch instead of a sterile room with nothing but a table and a chair.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about the CJC. It’s like I have ADHD or something.* Shut up. I’m getting to it.

On May 9th I have the incredible opportunity to be part of a show called Listen to Your Mother. Listen to Your Mother is “a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother’s Day. Born of the creative work of mothers who publish online, each production is directed, produced, and performed by local communities, for local communities.”

You guys. This is kind of a big deal. I had to audition for it and stuff. I decided I was good enough, I wrote something new, I put on my big girl panties and auditioned. And then they picked me. And then I cried. I’m not making that up. Someone texted the cast list to me and I started crying.

So. Those of you who live close to me—and you know who you are—had best be at my performance. If you aren’t, you’d better have a damn good excuse. I’m talking rivers of blood or a plague of locusts** or something equally horrifying. I need all the support I can get, because as the day draws near it’s entirely possible I’m starting to get slightly freaked out about all of this. Also, I wrote about Maggie (surprise, surprise) and the idea of breaking down in front of a roomful of strangers isn’t too appealing. I’d like some familiar faces in there.

Oh, and the CJC thing? If you didn’t notice from the above link (which I’m sure all of you clicked on), 10% of the ticket proceeds go to the Children’s Justice Center, which I think is pretty awesome.

Summary: Buy a ticket, watch me blubber and laugh*** my way through a new piece about Maggie, and it benefits The Children’s Justice Center. How could it possibly get any better than that?

Okay, fine. I’ll throw in some cookies.**** Buy a ticket and I’ll bake cookies for you greedy jerks. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

*Really. I’m on medications. Imagine what I’d be like without them!
**If there are rivers of blood or a plague of locusts I probably won’t be there either.
***No, seriously. There’s some funny stuff in there! I promise!
****Chocolate chip only. I’m not taking orders. What do you think I am, a fricking cookie shop?


5 02 2013

“Mommy, why did Maggie die in your tummy?”

The simple question takes my breath away.

“She didn’t die in mom’s tummy,” says Big G authoritatively.

“Yes she did!” insists Little G.

I see Car about to step in, and I take a deep breath. I need to handle this.

“Big G. Little G. This is something I’ll explain to you when you get older.”

They look at me curiously. I’ve never used this line with them before.

“But why, mommy?”

Because mommy had to kill Maggie to save her own life.

“It involves a lot of medical stuff, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to you right now. When you’re older you’ll be able to understand it, but right now it’s not something I’m going to talk about. Also,” I decide to address the real topic at hand, “it makes mommy feel sad to talk about it sometimes.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t get medical stuff,” says my ever-sensible Big G, and the conversation moves forward.

A reprieve, but now I realize that the day will come that we’ll have this talk.


For Maggie

15 10 2012
Unable are the Loved to die
For Love is Immortality
~ Emily Dickinson

Dear Maggie,

Today would have been your 12th birthday. I’ve decided you probably would’ve been a chatterbox and I’d nickname you Magpie. You’d probably hate it.

I hope you wouldn’t hate me.

Your brothers know about you now. During the last year I’ve told them all about you. Little G asks where your house is and when he’ll get to meet you. I think he’s a little bit too young to grasp the whole death thing, but Big G gets it.

When we had to put our dog, Tigger, to sleep a month ago, I told the boys he went to live with you. I hope that’s true. It made them feel a lot better. It made me feel better.

Today I bought balloons.

As the sun was setting, our family went outside.

And then we released the balloons in your memory.

We watched them float away until we couldn’t see them anymore.

Years ago I bought a little candle and decided it would be your candle. It’s not expensive or beautifully packaged, but it’s yours.

Tonight, after everyone was in bed, I burned the candle and I thought about you.

Twelve was a hard age for me. I suppose it is for everyone, really. I try to imagine what life would be like for you, but I just can’t. It was much easier for me to conjure up an image of you as a baby, a toddler, a little girl. But a preteen? I’m at a loss.

It’s been a good day today. Your dad bought flowers for me and I had lunch with your aunt. Dad and I carved pumpkins with your brothers. I haven’t even cried…until now.

Twelve years is a long time to miss somebody.

It does get easier, but it doesn’t go away.

Time to blow out the candle. I miss you, baby girl.



Maggie Doesn’t Live Here

15 10 2010

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

Today is Maggie’s birthday.

If you don’t know about Maggie, you can read the story of how I had HELLP Syndrome and lost my daughter. Or you can just know that ten years ago I carried a little girl in my womb, but she doesn’t live in our home.

Ten years.


Dear Maggie,

It’s hard to know what to say on your birthday. It’s not a happy day, as birthdays usually are. Instead of buying presents and baking a cake, I mourn the loss of the life you might have led.

I don’t have any idea what 10-year-old girls like. My life is full of trucks and transformers and the color blue. You might love pink, or perhaps you’d eschew such a girly color in favor of something like purple or red.

Would you still play with the giant tub of Barbies I saved from my childhood? Or would you consider yourself too grown up for dolls?

I hope you’d love to read as much as I do. We could sit and read Anne of Green Gables, then talk about whether you’re more of an Anne Shirley or a Diana Barry. (I hope Anne Shirley. I’ve always considered Diana rather bland.) We’d laugh at Anne’s escapades and swoon over Gilbert Blythe.

By now you might be noticing boys (I had my first crush in 3rd grade, so I totally get that), but hopefully you’d still be in the “taunting means I like you” stage. Odds are boys would notice you too, if you followed in mom’s footsteps and got your (completely necessary) first bra this year. You’d be proud but a little mortified by this development.

So many hopes. So many things that might have been, that could have been.

Ten years ago I asked the hospital to cremate your remains. Please understand that emotionally, I couldn’t handle anything else. I took home no pictures, no handprints, no reminders of your existence, yet when I walked in the door of our little trailer, I was greeted by your ultrasound picture.

I cried for hours.

I cried for days.

I cried for months.

I don’t cry as much these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. It just means I’ve learned to live without you. It’s a horrible thing to learn.

Tonight I will light a candle, and I will honor your memory. I’ll hug your brothers a little tighter than normal. They don’t know about you, but when they’re older I promise I’ll tell them about their older sister.

You don’t live in our home, but you will always live in my heart.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

— ee cummings

I love you, baby girl.