"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."


Post 48 | The Miscarriage Story

*** mildly graphic miscarriage information and personal details. ***

I had been told my womb was empty.  Two ultrasounds, both external and internal, showed an empty uterus.  I had bled a very very little.  Google search: second trimester miscarriage without bleeding.   Google search: miscarry without knowing it.  "Though you are supposed to be 14 weeks, it is likely the baby passed quite a while ago.  It's possible he was so small you didn't realize it had happened."  Google search:  first trimester miscarriage without bleeding.  "You will bleed for the next few days, but if the bleeding gets worse instead of tapering off, come back to the emergency room.  We'll want to make sure you aren't hemorrhaging or fighting an infection."

It sucked.  Our Ryan was due on my parent's would-be 26th Wedding Anniversary.  Right before the holiday season (our first without mama bear.)  We ran away to the seashore for a month -- me, my husband, my two babies -- both of whom lived off me, one sucking from the outside, the other sucking from the inside.  Out in the sunshine, with the three of them truly all-around me, I felt so much life.  I "noticed" plants in a way I never have before.  I sat in the rose gardens and enjoyed even the browning, rippled petals.  

But in the final 72 hours of our trip, my body hissed and leaked death.  I knew before I called the midwife, before I went to the ER, before I stood from the bathroom.  I didn't even get to say good-bye.  How cruel to never get a "Hello!" but no good-bye either?  How eerie and ridiculous.  I felt (mostly) physically fine and wanted to continue with our vacations plans, to close out this month away with family time in Disneyland.  It's the place I feel closest to my mother, and missing her in normal life is enough, so missing her in my-first-miscarriage-life was an aggressive punch to the nose.  I needed Main Street USA and churros.  It was going to be my escape to what, I believe, has promises of Heaven written all over it.  

Our Disney day was outstanding.  Rowdy responded like the children in the commercials, Caleb did that weird-laugh on his favorite rides and little girls dressed like Cinderella rode on carved, flying elephants above a singing fountain.  

And my baby, who I was told was no longer with me, was there too.  I found out he was there after the fireworks (the west coast version of the place Caleb asked me to go through life together -- he and I -- forever), just as Fantasmic began.  Crampy twists turned into labor contractions.  I leaned over to Caleb: "I think we need to go. Now. Or we will regret it."  He put Rowdy in the ergo, slung on the backpack and grabbed my hand.  We were going to try to get out of the park and to our hotel, but as we jogged past tiki torches and teriyaki skewers in AdventureLand, I commanded the need for a bathroom.  "Oh no. Caleb, Caleb, something is happening.  Something is happening right now."  It was the miscarriage version of dumping out water from those translucent blue kegs found in offices and waiting rooms everywhere.  Glug, glug, glug.  I could feel the heave and dump, over and over.  Caleb didn't want me to use the bathroom alone in case I passed out, but it was filled with women and little girls and even in the moment it felt not-right to storm in there with him.  People were around.  If I needed help I could yell or knock.

february 2012

february 2012

may 2014

may 2014

may 2014

may 2014

Instantly the toilet filled with red liquid life.  I focused on breathing, on not getting light-headed.  Blood streamed down my legs.  I got up and went back to my husband -- I realized I might not be able to help passing out.  It was a lot of blood.  In the meantime he had found a Disney employee who ran with us to the charming First Aid building.  Women in teal polo shirts whirred around me, laying down mats and enormous pads and making horrible faces.  We waffled between getting an ambulance or having Caleb go back to our hotel to get our rental car to drive me to the hospital himself.  I didn't want an ambulance -- I wasn't dying.  I knew that.  Caleb, armed with two dead iPhones, a hand-drawn map on a sheet of paper with a blue castle logo, and a sleeping baby in a black carrier, left me to take a tram to the main road to walk to the hotel to get our car to return to a drop-off loop where I would join him.

I laid on my back in a room much like a movie-set of "old school hospital rooms."  Neat, clean blue beds lined against two walls.  White and bright, silver and sterile.  I went in and out of sleep during contractions and blood pours.  After 45 minutes I was woken up by a soft-handed brunette security guard.  "Your husband is here.  I'm going to take you to him."  I put my hand by my side to push myself up and I splashed in my own blood.  I was laying in a pool, half an inch thick.  The security woman laid three heavy-duty pads down for me and I carefully set myself into the wheel chair.  She pushed me out secret passages and behind-the-scenes areas to get to the road where Caleb was waiting.  Even in the moment, I knew how cool that was.  

Caleb looked relieved to see me, and terrified at the amount of blood.  Relief and terror at the same time is a face I won't forget.  We were (in essence) turned away at three clinics.  "All our beds are full, and we can't guarantee a time when she could be seen.  But she's welcome to wait in the waiting room."   Caleb debated telling them I was having a heart attack.  "Do they not know how serious this is?!  What if you're hemorrhaging?! Would they just like you bleed to death because there isn't a bed for you?!"  I like his angry rants.  Even if they talk about me dying.  He loves me.

We went to the biggest hospital we could find.  All the beds were full.  It was 11:30 pm on Friday night and I was seventh in line for a room.  I sat in my bloody wheelchair and crunchy (useless) pad until 2:30 am on Saturday morning.  Once in a room, Caleb held my newly IV-ed hand and 'slept' on a pillow of metal bed-rail.  I was so sad and tired.  The ultrasound tech came in two hours later and Caleb saw our baby on the screen.  A head, arms and fingers, legs and toes.  He looked at me tearfully.  I was afraid of the miscarriage process.  It hadn't happened yet and it had been so bloody and painful already.  What do I do?    What if it doesn't happen all on its own?  What am I supposed to expect?  Pieces?  Clots?  Chunks?  How much bleeding is too much?  What pain is concerning pain?  They don't do Bradley classes on how to miscarry.  Where to miscarry.  "I'm going with a highly-medicated home birth."  

The doctor saw us at 6:00 am and told me a few things I didn't already know: our baby had died at 12 weeks, my cervix was completely open,  and he expected me to miscarry all by myself in the next 48 hours.  April 10th is when he died.  I know April 10th.  It's the day my dear friend delivered her dead son, Bobby.  He was 20 weeks old and absolutely beautiful.   He was also perfect: no chromosomal abnormalities, no defects, no missing body parts.  He died one day, for no medical or biological reason.  I was texting our other dear friend Becca all day.  She was beside Janet, Bobby's mama, helping her labor to birth her baby.  No one came in to check the heart rate.  No one turned on the heating station.  Janet, Becca and I were all pregnant together.  Expecting within a couple months of each other.  Janet's loss was blind-siding, and I held my tummy all day long, letting tears come as they willed.  Before I went to bed, as I was receiving pictures of Bobby's tiny face, I felt a mermaid-tail flip inside me.  It was early, but my first and only kick of Ryan's I got.  I now wonder if maybe that's when he died?  Or maybe he was playing hard and fell asleep later in the night and then woke up in heaven?  I remember April 10th.

 We left the hospital and drove straight to the airport after fetching our eldest from Caleb's brother and his girlfriend in the waiting room.  A long night was had by all.  We had an 11 am flight to catch.  We talked over and over about our options, but decided to take our chances and fly.  We were headed to Dallas for me to shoot a wedding.  I couldn't think about that yet.  And I still had a week to worry about the wedding.  But I wanted to try to arrive, to get the flight out of the way.  We carried our luggage and Disney plastic bags and crap to the big windows in front of the ticketing gates.  I tried to find Rowdy's birth certificate and all the liquids in the carry-ons.  Rowdy took delight in pulling one item of clothing out at a time, putting it on his head, and running a few circles before starting again.  We let him.  Caleb had diarrhea (sausage McMuffin and coffee after a night in the emergency room, anyone?).  I felt thin and waif-like (I'm not... but my body was timid and drained.)  

You don't know until you know.  My group of three pregnant friends was down to one.  My mom wasn't around to call or come help.  My body held my dead baby.  And we were playing peek-a-boo at gate B3 in LAX.  When it comes time to never-be-the-same, you somehow just do.  

I delivered Ryan Day Morris on Sunday night, May 4th, in a friend's tub.  There are 100 reasons why I should have never been in that particular friend's house, let alone master bathroom.  But I'm grateful that that's where I was.  I'm grateful my husband was with me.   I'm grateful we weren't 30,000 feet in the air.  Contractions had laid low for most of the morning and afternoon, but 15 minutes after we arrived at our destination they started.  When they got too painful, I left the kitchen and conversation and went to the bedroom to labor.  

I'm grateful that though I didn't get 12,000 mother-moments with Ryan, I got a birth experience with him.  I had been so afraid of golf-ball-sized blood clots.  I worried I wouldn't know when he had come out, or that I would accidentally flush him down the toilet, or that he would get stuck.  The Lord told me "You're in labor.  You pushed out a very big baby once before, and now you're going to do the same with a much smaller baby."  The mental transition to over-the-top-clotty-period to natural labor was just what I needed.  It was calm, peaceful and nurturing.  It was my last chance to do something with Ryan, to be a mama to my baby.  I enjoyed in a heartbreaking way every stitch of it.  Swaying and breathing, with a good daddy rubbing my back.

The final large contractions set in, and I got in the warm tub (at my husband's recommendation) and quickly felt the urge to push.   Two painless pushes later, my apple-sized (much bigger than expected!) little one was "born."  No nurses.  No cord to cut.  No cry to wait for.  No skin-to-skin for bonding.  Caleb lifted his little boy out of the bloody water and wrapped him in a blue towel.  You don't know until you know how much you can love a wrinkled brown (human) lump.  The next morning we drove him out to the farm where his father and I met.  

On Tuesday May 6th our little family of four went out to the land we love so much, and we left one we love so much.  The house was built for the joy of little children like him; built with visions of him in mind.  Ryan ("Child of the King") Day ("Light, Hope") Morris lays outside our future-bedroom window, in the center of the future-front-garden.   When I walk over to his hole in this red earth, my heart carbonates and spills over.  Inside his too-small wood tomb (which is sealed shut by dad so "the ants don't get him.") is a heartfelt letter from each parent, and "dit! dit!" (sticks) from big brother.  I look forward to the day you sword-fight with sticks, while mom and I sit on the front porch with the Lion of Judah laughing at our side.  

"I love that God is leaving nothing undone. It's like He's going back in time and mending wounds, the big gashes and the tiny tears. He sees them all and He does not forget even when I try. I pushed things into the 'forget' corner because they were too small of hurts that didn't matter all that much. And yet God brings them to the light and says, 'This one too. I'll mend that too. I'm not done here.'"  [The Nato's]

Sing like never before, oh my soul.

Good-bye my baby.  Snuggle grandma for me.  Go delight in being the child of the King, and I'll be there to play and talk and get to know you very soon.  


Part 43 | A Rare Achievement

"when you're up, you'll be up
you'll have love, you'll have luck,
and when it goes,
you won't see it coming."

josh ritter -- wild goose

There are events I witnessed in the final days of mom's life that were so intense, shocking and sacred that I don't know if I'll ever share them publicly -- perhaps not even privately aside from my husband (for we are one).  Among the multiple life-changing lessons learned of this time was this one:  death does not wait until you are ready.  It doesn't ask your permission.  It doesn't make sure you got to do and say everything you wanted to.  It says "Come. Now.  Let's go." with no questions asked, compassion, patience or final wishes.  I feel blessed to have had as much time to prepare for good-bye as we did.  Dozens and dozens of memories made and conversations had that so many others don't get.  We are grateful.  And yet… we thought we had a few weeks, not a few days.  When you're losing someone for the rest of this life the difference between 'weeks' and 'days' is much.  We had a few more plans.  We had a few more ideas.  We had a few more memories we wanted to make.  And were told "No.  It's the end."

It's a sincerely good lesson.  I don't want to learn it twice.  I don't want to presume upon finances "in five years," or "more time together after the next raise," or "once the kids are older."  Once we own a house, after we have X-much saved, when we're done having kids, after we finish this or that, once I'm done nursing, someday.  I don't want to bank my being-alive on presumptions I, quite frankly, don't have.  I'm fully (fully) aware that there is an important role for Responsibility, Money To Pay The Bills, A Nest Egg, Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and Long Term Goals + Vision.  In fact, I think those things and "living in the moment" go hand in hand.  They aren't as contradictory as we might believe sometimes.

This isn't a call to stop having dreams and plans, it's a call to start acting on them. It's writing for the heart of a woman who wanted to meet more grandbabies, attend more graduations, visit Hawaii at least one more time, heck, make just another meal for her kids.  There are some things we simply can't speed up (an eleven-year-old just can't graduate from college, you can't order a baby to be delivered overnight) but there are decisions we can stop waiting on.  Life we can act on now.  Drastic lifestyle changes we can make that we would not regret on our death beds.  

I want an old, gray, toothless, saggy lifetime with my husband, but if I don't get that -- like my dad -- I want to know we lived as full a life together we possibly could have.  That there was more doing - even against odds, logic and resources - than "someday-ing."  

So.  We've rented a home in Southern California for a month.  All of April will be spent doing something we've dreamed of for a few years now; together -- husband, wife + son.  We're going to walk and ride bicycles to-and-fro.  He's going to play music on the street.  We're going to live off the cash he makes.   We're going to buy local farmer's market produce, cook together, make breakfast together, eat meals together.  And not rush out the door to work.  While Caleb and Roo explore the beach or the park or the backyard, I'm going to write.  I'm attempting to return to Maryland with a full rough-draft manuscript.  I'd like to publish a real, touchable book.  I'll share more about said book in the future, but it's inspired by mom.  We'd like to get tan -- we're so happy and alive in the sun.

There are a few reasons this trip isn't "best" right now:  winter is the slow season for both of our businesses, we're trying to save to finish our Oklahoma home, we've had unexpected expenses recently, we don't like taking Rowdy away from family, and more.  But, then again, there is no better time because it's time that is real and time we do have now, which is the best time of all. 

"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.  In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as 'the good life,' a person happy doing his own work is considered an eccentric if not subversive.  Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.  

Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake.  A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential.  As if a job title and salary are the measure of human worth.  You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing.  There are a million ways to sell yourself out and I guarantee you'll hear about them.  To invent your own life's meaning is not east, but it's still allowed and I think you'll be happier for your trouble."  Bill Watterson, author and creator of Calvin & Hobbes


To end, I want to dramatically and emotionally thank you.  A large part of the motivation, clarity and eagerness for this trip and the next steps in our life are a result of you.  You who acted on buying plane tickets, with money out of your own wallets,  to stand with us at the memorial.  Well over a dozen of you did so -- that's thousands of spontaneously spent dollars.  You who drove hours from out-of-state; who made the trip when it would have been so easy not to.  You who gave to the Mama Bear Fund -- we'll be able to give the kids a few more memories Mama wanted to give them herself because of your kindness.  You who sent flowers, care packages, snack boxes, handwritten notes, texts, e-mails, full meals and other gifts.  You who specifically took time to encourage me "You should write."  Each of those was a thought in your mind that required action, and you took it.  We must have received thousands of 'tokens' of love in a weeks' time.  You moved us.  You were poured out upon a dry and weary land.  You held us up when our legs were broken.

This trip is in honor of the life, legacy and lesson learned from my mother, but also in honor of the local and worldwide crowd that has carried us.  You have gone out of your way to bring us to the house, cut a hole in the roof, and lower us straight to Jesus.  We were crippled, and of course the pain remains, but you did not leave us alone to die.  Thank you.  I want to write in order to, perhaps, bless one family someday in the way you've blessed mine.  Thank you.  We'll think of you fondly while we listen to the waves.

(Ps. This is for you, mama.)

Post 42 | The Championship Painting

"every champion was once a contender who refused to give up."
rocky balboa

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I've thought of Mama's life and death in many different analogies and ways.  Earth is like a womb -- we're alive, but once we come out of the womb we're REALLY alive.  Crossing a bridge.  Sailing a sea.  A chapter or two in an endless novel series.  But, currently, as our basketball team is one week from tournament play, sports themes are on my mind.  And I view Mama's last days as the Championship Memories.  

Sports has an incredible ability to engage your body, mind, heart and soul.  Big games I participated in as a player and coach come to mind almost daily.  There is no way to describe a championship season with a team you love.  You work and labor and practice and run and it seems repetitive.  And games start -- you win some, you lose some.  You try to take the good and enhance, and take the bad and change.  Each event has the big event in mind.  Every day is working toward that day.  Play-offs come.  This swear-word gets serious.  Play-offs are wars.  And if you make it through, you're a player in the finals.  It's extremely emotional.  I would dream about the game multiple times throughout multiple nights.  Every routine, every conversation, every feeling stapled to my memory.  Laying out my uniform.  Filling my water bottle.  Dressing myself.  Rehearsing plays and mantras and goals.  Arriving at the school.  Seeing my girls.  Warm-ups.  Tip-off.  We go up! We go down! How will it end!  All that time, and now it's gone by so fast! It was nervey-fun.

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Mama's last few weeks were our Championship Days.  So nerve-wracking.  So intense.  So memorable.  So fun.  After a life of practicing, cheering, competing, running the end of the season was upon her.  This was it.  All she'd been living for.  Her last chance to "leave it on the court."  The wonderful news is that she did it.  She finished the game and was victorious,  The difficult news is that we missed the awards ceremony.  We miss her.  But God allowed us so much.  He gave us time He could have taken.  He gave us the chance to lay out the uniform one more time.  To warm-up together, one more time.  To walk out on the court with our loved ones cheering for us, one more time.  He gave us Holy Ground days we could never replace.  We made many memories in those end months, and we'd like to share some of them with you.  

One day in early December our family was summoned together by my mom's best girlfriend, Tracy.  A few of the kids couldn't make it, but there was a 'big surprise' she had for us.  I couldn't guess what it might be.  With a group of Mama's friends huddled around we watched an artist unveil the gift:

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I photographed mom so I saw her reaction to the surprise before I saw it: the painting.  In my whole 24 years I've never seen mom burst into blessed-tears like she did that evening.  She did for good reason.  Tracy pooled money from dozens of eager friends.  They got in touch with Becca DiMiao and hired her to paint our magical masterpiece.  All of us -- all of us.  Mama, Dad, the seven kids, Caleb and Rowdy.  All of us.  Just a couple short months ago in front of Mama (and her mother's) favorite ride at her favorite place in the world.  This meticulously crafted gift is what we would grab if the house was on fire.  

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There are more details that mean something to us every time we look at it.  Katie is wearing a shirt my mom bought with her mom in Hawaii when she was Katie's age.  Bacca was with us that day, I know it.  Dad is smiling.  Mom is wearing her favorite present from my dad: a diamond eternity necklace.  Kevin's hair is curly -- mom's favorite way for it to be.  She loves his curls.  Lauren is wearing a shirt my mother-in-law sent to me, and Caleb is wearing his new logo on his cap proudly.  There is a long (ridiculous) story behind the white shorts I'm wearing, but it includes my husband and mom being very patient and gracious.  Tim was with us this trip.  Rowdy happened to have his ears on.  This is the only picture we have of the eleven of us.  

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After hanging the treasure on our wall, we enjoyed a feast from Copper Canyon that mom's friends brought with them.  We also read through the cards from everyone who contributed financially to the gift.  Thank you.  Every one.  We saw each name.  Mama cried through them (ps. Heather, she promised to send Alivia your love and, yes, she will definitely snuggle her up for you.)  If you gave $5, you gave us this.  This Championship Game Memory.  Next time you're at our home, please make sure you look at the painting.  Call to mind mom's beautiful response.  Thank God for good things such as these.  We're so grateful.  Thank you over and over.  And Tracy, thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty.  I know you love my mom.  Your love, ideas and presence have been God to us.  Thank you.  You hit a three to go into halftime.

Ps.  Wasn't my mom beautiful?