In Loving Memory of Jesse Gabriel Kammerzell

Your precious feet left tiny footprints in our hearts...

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I'm not one of those bereaved mothers who can't stand the thought of someone else's happy pregnancy or healthy baby. I don't want people to walk on eggshells around me or feel like they can't bask in their own joy because of me. But I do very much appreciate it when people acknowledge the fact that I may be sensitive about their situations. Like just asking, Do you want to hear this? Is it okay to talk about this? And after that, it always is. I am so appreciative of those who will just say something rather than allow that awkward silence, you know?
Jesse is my child, and always will be. I've also lost my father and that doesn't mean that nobody can talk about their fathers around me, and who would think of it? (Though Father's Day does always make me tear up a little, and father-daughter dances at weddings.) I suppose that certain milestones will always be a little tough...Jesse's due date, watching other babies or children who Jesse'd have been close to in age. At any rate, we won't let Jesse's name be forgotten and we'll honor him as a member of our family, but life does go on. Am I wrong for feeling that way?

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Oh, what a difference a week makes! Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, my principal called an emergency staff meeting. Budget cuts are costing us teachers next year. Luckily our building will even out, with the people with temporary contracts who were already leaving. But the way our numbers play out, one of us would have to teach half day kindergarten and then half day 2nd or 3rd grade. Long story short, I took the job. I think it'll be good for me, a change in scenery. Maybe precious, fresh kindergarteners will renew my love for teaching and remind me how rewarding it can be! And in the back of my mind I was thinking, it would be a pretty easy position for a sub to walk into, should the need arise for a maternity leave...

Flash Forward 2 days. Took a pregnancy test Friday night on a whim. (Not really a whim. I'd had a couple of dizzy spells earlier in the week like those I had when I was carrying Jesse. Billy's had weird cravings and we'd joked a lot that I must be pregnant for him to be having cravings, so the idea was planted.) Two lines indicate pregnant. There's one strong line and a second, very faint. I decide I'll take another in the morning. Again, one strong line, the second a little darker this time. Pretty sure I'm pregnant. We went to a wedding today, and then to a bbq with family afterwards. On the way to the bbq, we bought another package of pregnancy tests, the kind with the WORDS pregnant or not pregnant. We'd decided that if it came back positive, we'd tell the whole family tonight. Clearly waiting to tell anyone about my pregnancy with Jesse until we were "out of the woods" (past 12 weeks) didn't do a lick of good. So, we're doing it different this time. I peed on the stick in my cousin's bathroom and it popped pregnant. So we told the family and we're back in the game.

I'm excited. I feel more optimistic this time than I did with Jesse. I had never had the strong urge to buy anything for him, so I hadn't bought a thing yet when he was born sleeping. Last week I was at Kohl's and saw some wall decals for a nursery and had a STRONG desire to buy it. We don't even have a nursery! I didn't, but in the back of my mind I wondered if that was a sign. So it is with cautious optimism that I announce my second pregnancy. We should be due right around Thanksgiving, 2010. That'll be something to be thankful for!

Yet in the back of my mind, there are nagging thoughts. Am I being disloyal, betraying Jesse because I am excited about a new baby? When Jesse should have still been in my womb, should I be happy that there is a new life begun there? Is there a statute of limitations of sorts, on grief for a child lost? Should we have waited until after his due date? How will I handle the stress of this pregnancy? What if the worst happens again; how will I forgive myself?

And then I push those thoughts aside. We deserve this. We've been through our share of hardship and grief. I believe that Jesse understands that we miss him terribly, and that another child isn't a replacement for him. I think the tide is changing for us, and this is good...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An unexpected kinship

"All I can say is, it's a sort of kinshp, as though there is a family tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided parents, and here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible happens, you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins." (An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination, McCracken p.136)

This journey of sorrow has brought with it a whole new set of friends, people with whom I feel a deep connection even though I've known them only a short time...some of them only online, even. Some people are offended when, in the wake of something terrible, someone says, "Well, it happened to me too," as if to say, it's not such a big deal. I got over it and you will too. I felt this at times in the early days. But now,to the contrary, I feel an instant connection, gratitude even, toward anyone who shares with me their story of loss (and there have been many since Jesse died, so many that I'm shocked at how common it actually is to lose a child in-utero,and at a later stage of pregnancy.)As though to say, it's okay, you're not a failure, you didn't cause it and it does happen.

It also seems as though people who have lost a child tend to have a bitterness, an overpowering jealousy toward others who have their happy, healthy babies, or who are having a good pregnancy, or especially toward those who have unplanned and even unwanted pregnancies or are careless in their prenatal regimens. They can have babies (often one after another) without complication, and here I am, wanting this baby with all my heart and worrying and trying to do all the right things, and I don't get a baby. And I have those moments too, of course,and it's raw and it's real. But I would far rather have people feel that they can still be joyful and not have to walk on eggshells around me. I want to hear about my friends' babies and pregnancies, even though it's difficult. I far more loathe the feeling that people aren't comfortable speaking freely around me about their children and are worrying about upsetting me. Maybe that's just me. I hate to inconvenience anyone. And my grief often does feel like an inconvenience.I do appreciate when someone acknowledges it by asking if I want to hear it first, or by inviting me to a shower and honestly saying "I didn't know how you'd feel and I understand whatever you decide." I have to remind myself to feel it and travel through it rather than avoiding it. There are so many uncertain and conflicting feelings coursing through me all the time.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dear Jesse,

My Dear, Sweet Jesse,

It's Mommy. It breaks my heart that I can't hold you in my arms to tell you all of the things I want you to know. I believe that you are with me each and every day, and I know that you are okay. I see you in the crystal blue skies and feel you in a soft breeze. I hear you in the chirping of the birds and the laughter of other children. I believe that you are laughing and running through lush meadows and flying among the clouds and loving us from another, better place.

I hope you know that your Daddy and I loved you so, so much from the second we found out that you were growing inside my tummy. I spent so many hours imagining what you would be like. Would you have your Daddy's height? What color would your eyes be? I like to imagine they'd have sparkled like the sun on the ocean like your Nana Penny's eyes. What color hair would you have? It wouldn't have mattered, but I'd have liked to know. I hope you know that you have a big sister who was so very excited to meet you. Sami was going to teach you everything she knew, and she couldn't wait to start helping pick out toys for you. Did you hear her when she talked to you in my tummy, telling you "I love you baby!"? If you'd have been a girl, she wanted to name you Stellaluna Barbie. Isn't that silly? But she really wanted a brother most of all. (She'd have named you Jo-Jo.) And your Daddy wanted a little boy of his own in the worst way.

I hope you know that there were already so many people here who loved you, who had dreams for your life. Your Nana Penny and Papa Bill started buying diapers as soon as they heard that you were coming! You have a Nana Linda and Uncles Dan and Blaine who live far away, but they were waiting for you too. I really think that you have probably met your Grandpa Bob, my father, and many great and great-great grandparents and aunts and uncles, who I believe were waiting for you that night with their arms open, to hold and protect you when your Daddy and I couldn't. And I believe that one day we will be there, all of us together.

I hope you know that I could never regret one second of the 19 weeks and two days that you were growing inside of my womb. They were some of the most joyful times for us, imagining what it would be like after you were born, what kind of an amazing person you would become.

I hope you know, Jesse, how very very sorry I am that I wasn't able to bring you home to live here, with us. My body was not able to hold you and keep you safe long enough. My heart is empty and my mind full of questions that I'll never have answers to. Would you have been a sailor or a daredevil like your Daddy, wanting to jump out of planes? Would you have been a musician like my Dad or your Uncle Blaine? Maybe you'd have been a fisherman, too. Would you have been good with cars? Your Uncle Dan is, and your Papa Bill, and your Great-Grandpa, my Pop-o. Maybe you'd have been a teacher like me and so many others in our family. Or you could have been a scientist, a doctor, an artist, an athlete. The possibilities for you were endless, and we will never know. But a Mother can always continue to dream about what might have been. I promise that you'll never be forgotten, my precious Jesse Gabriel, my baby boy.

Love you forever,

Friday, March 12, 2010


It had not been a hard day today; quite the contrary. It's Friday. My students are finished with their CSAP testing. The weather was beautiful, and I had a productive lunch meeting, got good news about new technology I'm getting in my classroom, and even was feeling quite satisfied that I'd gotten so much planning finished after school. It's weird how grief sneaks up on you.

Tonight we went to Old Chicago to eat. That's where we had dinner the night Jesse died. We've been back since then once or twice, and it was no big deal. Tonight though, was a different story. When we got there we circled the lot to find no parking (maybe the first sign that we should've just ordred pizza), so we drove across town to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, which was equally busy. Billy really wanted OC so back we went. We had to park across the street in the tanning salon parking lot. When we got inside it was slammed. Hot. Loud. Smothering. There was no space in the bar (of course), so I put gave our name and the lady said it would be about 45 minutes. I took the buzzer thingy and went back to Billy. As I told him how long the wait would be, suddenly my heart felt as though it would burst from my chest. The walls and the crowd were going to crush me if I didn't leave, and quick. I couldn't be in there, not right at that moment. Not wanting to burst into tears in front of all of these people, I dashed out the front door and all I could think of was getting out, getting away from the noise, the crushing crowd, to breathe. I couldn't breathe. Humiliated that I couldn't even manage to go out to dinner with my husband on a Friday night. (It was a crowded Friday night that night too. Twelve weeks ago. We were sitting at the bar so we wouldn't have to wait forever for a table.) All I wanted was to go home. Couldn't we just get takeout? But Billy really wanted to go out to eat so we made our second trip back across town to the equally crowded Mexican restaurant. It wasn't AS noisy or AS hot, but the people standing in the lobby waiting for tables all seemed to have babies. Everywhere I looked, babies. Babies in pink hats and babies with rosy cheeks from the wind. Babies laughing, bouncing in their daddies' arms. Again the tears jumped from my eyes and I couldn't talk to Billy to even tell him what was wrong because if I breathed, if I opened my mouth, I knew that all that would come out would be a strangled, pitiful sob and I didn't want to make it more of a scene than it already was. They seated us pretty quickly...get that crying woman out of sight, quick, I imagine. And even at our table, from the booth behind, crying babies.

What had brought on such a reaction? Our assignment for group this week is to try to write a letter to Jesse, and that's been sitting like a lump of cold steel in the back of my brain all week. I just can't wrap my head around how to start. And I got some books that I'd ordered today. Books friends at group recommended. About God talking to a Baby he's about to take home, like Jesse. I haven't read it yet; not sure I can. About a little kid who was supposed to have a baby brother or sister, but got an angel instead. Will I read it to Sami or just tuck it away with Jesse's things? Or could it be the disc of photos I am carrying around in my purse, wanting to get a print of Jesse's precious little feet(the ones at the top of this page)to put in a tiny frame next to the plaster molds they made us at the hospital?

In the end, dinner was fine. I am exhausted. I think I'll go to bed early.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If you'd have asked me a year ago, or five years ago, or ten, what my stand on abortion was, I'd have said that while I personally would never do it, I believed it should be an option for some women in certain situations. Women have the right to choose what happens with their bodies, right? But what I didn't understand fully before is how real a baby is from conception onward. That little tiny peanut already had all of the genetic makeup that would make him the person he'd grow to be. His heart beat as surely as my own. Looking at the photos of Jesse, how can anyone say that he was not yet a person? Yes, I still believe women have a right to choose, but don't their babies have the right to live? There are so many people who long for a child and yet can't conceive or can't carry a baby to term, and yet there are people who can just throw a life to the wind, willy-nilly. Maybe there are better choices. (How ironic that the ad popping up at the side of my screen is for the Morning After Pill.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Baby steps pun intended. In group tonight we talked about goals we have for ourselves in this journey. For me, it's not so much goals as it is little accomplishments as life returns to normal...whatever normal might be. At first it was just to get dressed. And then, to go out of the house. Billy's parents kept my dog, Jewel, for several days after Jesse died. I am not sure I could have dragged myself down the steps to take her out. When we brought her home, it was horrible to walk her, because I'd remember how only a week before I'd have been winded walking up and down the steps and how I'd worried about slipping on an ice patch. I'd used to daydream on those walks about how life would be with a baby. So walking her, left alone with my thoughts, is still a difficult thing.

Then it was to go out for lunch. The first time we went out to lunch afterwards, we were going to go to the mall, something, anything to get out of the house. After we ate, my energy was completely sapped and all I wanted to do was crawl back in bed. So we went home, and I did. One of the hardest things was making myself go to the grocery store. Crowds were smothering, crushing. I'd never really appreciated why people send food and buy meals for families in the wake of tragedy, but now I get it. My family wouldn't have eaten if not for the kindness of friends who kept us well fed for weeks afterward.

One day a couple of weeks after, I went to Kohl's. I had Kohl's Cash to spend. I walked around, not seeing anything I wanted, carefully avoiding the baby and maternity departments. I found a few random items and as I approached the front of the store it dawned on me that this line of people I was passing, stretching all the way back to the shoe department was the checkout line. The temperature in the store suddenly increased about 20 degrees and I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I saw a woman with a rosy-cheeked baby in a carrier strapped to her chest. Suddenly, I had to be out of that store. I couldn't take it for one more minute. I tossed the items I was carrying on a nearby display and it was all I could do to keep from running out the sliding glass doors of the store, and I sat in my car and sobbed. Such a failure, to not even be able to handle going to the store! I never did spend that Kohl's Cash, $30 gone to waste!

The next hurdle for me was going back to work. I'm very, very fortunate to work with an amazing staff. One friend had called every person on staff to let them know about our loss before we came back, and I am so very thankful for her kindness. Still, I dreaded the sympathetic looks, the averted eyes, the hugs and I'm sorries even. I didn't want people to look at me and feel sorry for me. I didn't want them to think of me as the one whose baby died. I made it through the first round of hugs at the door and thought I'd be okay, until I walked into the first staff meeting. The topic of the opening exercise was six-word-memoirs. Tell a meaningful story in just six, well-chosen words. The example given: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." Extremely powerful words. Extremely powerful. I thought my eyeballs might fall out of my face right there, but I managed to hold myself together, until we were asked to tell our winter break stories in six words. The enormity of this task brought me to my knees. Could I just borrow that example? Because it sure fit. I fled to the bathroom, where my principal found me and excused me from the meeting. Our school social worker came and talked with me...listened to me mostly...for a good long time, and I was so grateful for that. She helped me to send a message to my students' parents so that they might talk with their children before they returned to school. I was terrified that someone would say something, meaning no harm but not knowing. The rest of the day was better, and I found that I was relieved to be around my work family again.

Then next step was to that first morning back with my students. Our counselor met them with me and I talked with them about Jesse. Then I left and they made cards. There's nothing like the thinking of an 8 year old to make me chuckle. One wrote, "If you just don't think about it you won't be sad!" and another, "Baby losses are always bad. But look at it this way, now you won't have to get up at 3:30 to feed the baby!" One child wrote, "I just want you to know that it's okay to cry." (That made me cry a little.)

Once I was back in school, it was easy to throw myself into my work, my students, and not dwell on my sadness. But it was like a mosquito, the grating whining of it always there in my ear. I'd brush it away and keep on about my business. The problem with that was, I felt as though I held myself together during the day, during the week, and then when I got home...weekends, especially, I would just melt down. Like I had spent so much energy just holding the pieces together that I couldn't do anything else, couldn't function. The very second I slowed down enough to breathe, that mosquito would land at last and suck me dry. It was hard for my family, and hard for me because again, I felt like a failure, that I couldn't even handle playing a game of Chutes and Ladders with Sami. It was very difficult for me to deal with her for some time.

Anyway, none of these things were things I'd anticipated or worked toward as goals. They were more just hurdles that had to be cleared, and then I felt that I could move on to the next thing. And still, I can't really think of a goal. I just take each day as it comes and thank God for the hurdles I do clear.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A sign from above?

It's a chilly Monday night, a few weeks after Jesse went to Heaven. Billy and I are waiting for Sami's dance class to end, so we decide to walk through a nearby Hallmark store. It being just after Christmas, there is a rack of clearance ornaments, the personalized kind. I always look for Sami's name whenever I see those kinds of things. So I'm searching, there, hanging on the peg right next to a red Samantha, there is a blue one, obviously hung back in the wrong place. My breath catches in my chest for a moment as I read the name on the misplaced ornament. Jesse. Not misplaced at all. Call me superstitious, but I think our little guy was just letting us know that he is okay. We can't hold him in our arms, but he is with us, forever in our hearts.

Telling Sami

One of the hardest parts of this journey so far has been having to tell Sami. She was staying with her mom for the first week of break, and we had her for 24 hours over Christmas Eve. We decided to wait to tell her until after Christmas, when we'd have her longer so we could process it together, without casting a shadow over Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Billy's parents came over for dinner. We had the lasagna they'd sent us home with from the hospital. It was a miserable reminder of the week that had just passed. At one point during the evening, Sami came and laid her head on my belly and said, "I love you, baby." How heartbreaking that was.

Several days later we picked her up for the rest of the break. On the way home, we stopped at Target to pick up a few things. As we walked through the store, Sami babbled non-stop about "When the baby comes, I'm going to..." and "Can we buy this for the baby?" I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

Later that evening, I took Sami on my lap. I told her that sometimes when a baby is still in the Mommy's tummy, something happens, and we don't know why, but the baby dies. That's what happened to our baby, and he is in heaven with the angels. Her big brown eyes welled up with tears. "And he's never coming back?" The three of us clung to one another and wept then. A while later, Sami came out of her room and climbed back onto my lap with a very serious expression. "I'm sorry I jumped on the baby." Sami is a very physical child, who likes to climb all over us. We used to tell her, be careful not to jump on the baby. The sweet thing thought that she'd hurt her baby brother. "Oh, no, honey, it was nothing you did. It was not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. Nobody did. We just don't know why."

Two nights later, she called me into her bedroom to look at a picture she'd made on her whiteboard. The night before I'd drawn a heart and wrote "I love you Sami!" She had erased everything but half of the heart. She pointed to the missing half and said, "That part is the baby." It felt like my heart shattered into a million pieces and at the same time swelled with love for this precious little thing and her pure understanding of what innocent and full of love for the baby brother who she would never know. Unspoiled, she just said what she felt, unlike adults who say what they think they should say and end up saying all the wrong things.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


It occurs to me that something was off throughout my pregnancy. If you know me well, you know that I'm a planner. My bridesmaids will tell you that while I was planning my wedding, I was completely obsessive. No detail was too small to worry over, to email and discuss with my ladies. After the wedding was over and done with, I felt lost, with no "project" to plan. (My girls probably were relieved!) So naturally I figured that when I got pregnant, I'd shift into overdrive with my planning...and shopping. Before the pregnancy I would see baby clothes and long for the day that I could buy them for my own child. But the funny thing is, I didn't. I didn't buy a thing. I didn't research daycare for infants. I didn't get a crib or make space in our bedroom for the baby's furniture. I didn't really do anything. So unlike me. I don't think I ever really believed that there was going to be a baby, somehow. The four home pregnancy tests, the multiple doctor visits, seeing that little fuzzy peanut in the sonogram, hearing the heartbeat...and yet somehow it still wasn't a reality for me. Did I know something was wrong, even then? Could I have somehow subconsciously predicted that this tragedy would befall my baby?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't want to say too much...

Someone I met recently who is also going through this journey put it very eloquently when she said that this is now our story. As hard and horrible and sad as it is, and it is hard and horrible and sad, it is now part of us and always will be. "The pain never goes away," she said, "but the story gets easier to tell."

One thing that's been hard for me is the feeling that I am overburdening people by talking about what happened. For me, reliving it and talking about it is therapy, a way of processing a true tragedy. I am so grateful to have friends and family who are willing to listen as much as I need to talk. But I know it makes people uncomfortable. They smile sympathetically and nod, but I am painfully aware that most people don't know what it's like and would rather avoid it or pretend it didn't happen. But it is my story. I often am well aware of my rambling, and I can't seem to stop myself. I am enjoying this blog a lot because I can say whatever is running through my mind and you can choose to read it, or not.

The thing about a loss like this is that nobody else ever knew this baby. People think, well he was never here so how can he be missed? There's pressure to move on, maybe more for the convenience and comfort of others more than anything else. I recognize that even though I feel like my life is in shreds, that we will be okay, and that life will go on. But the thing is, I DID know him. For 19 weeks, he was a part of me. How does one just get over the loss of a child who was as alive as any of us are today, who was so wanted and already so deeply loved? And how can you hear that heartbeat, look at the pictures of him, and not believe that his life was as real and true as any child who walks through the doors of my classroom each day? I need to remember, need to honor the life of my child, my son. I don't want to move on. The pain never does go away, but the story gets easier to tell. There is truth in those words.

Monday, March 1, 2010

That night

We went to our first Solace meeting tonight. I think it will be a positive thing. Not easy, but a step in the right direction. It's nice to talk with people who really understand what we're going through.

The day that we lost Jesse was not really just an average day. It was the last day of school before winter break, Friday, December 18. We'd taken the whole school to see The Princess and the Frog. I'd felt good all day; there was no indication that anything was amiss. I had been having some back pain earlier in the week, and I did call my doctor's office to ask about it and they said it sounded normal. I chalked it up to too much standing the Sunday before when we had our annual Christmas candy-making day with Billy's family. Anyway, I was feeling good and excited about the winter break, excited about our 20 week ultrasound, which was scheduled for the following Tuesday. I was positive that the baby was a girl, but we were excited to find out for sure. Billy wanted a boy in the worst way!

We went to eat at Old Chicago that night, and after dinner I started having stomach pains. I thought, honestly, that it was gas. Thinking back, I should've known something was wrong. I'd never had gas pains like that before, but I guess my mind just wouldn't let me think that it could be a problem with the baby. I went home to lie down and rest. I was so sure it was nothing that I told Billy to stay and finish his drink, that there was no reason for him to leave a perfectly good beer sitting there because of a little stomach ache. He was going to take a cab when he finished, and I drove myself home. I laid down for a while, but the pains did not go away. It wasn't much later that my water broke. I remember being completely confused about what was happening, not comprehending. And then there was blood. Lots of it. Billy couldn't hear his phone ringing, so I called his parents instead. They live 20 minutes away, but reached our place in 15. We collected Billy on the way to the hospital, and arrived around 8:30 p.m.

When we got to the E.R. it felt like an eternity while we waited for them to decide whether to keep me there or send me "upstairs." Finally, someone pushed my wheelchair to an elevator. I didn't really get where we were headed at this point, but when I saw the signs for Labor & Delivery, my heart sank. I was going to have this baby tonight. This was NOT what I'd pictured my first visit here to be. I do have to say that the staff on duty, especially our nurse, Sarah, were phenomenal. I was the only patient on that wing, and I do feel exceptionally fortunate to have had such compassionate care.

They did an ultrasound, and it showed that there was no fluid around the baby. There was a heartbeat, but it was slow, about 60 beats per minute. They couldn't tell the gender from the ultrasound. The doctor told me that the only option was to induce labor, and that obviously, it was too early. They left us to digest this. By this time I was just numb. The whole scene was surreal. I remember Billy saying over and over that the baby was going to be okay, but I knew that he didn't have a chance. I felt oddly calm throughout this time. They induced labor at about 11:30 and then we waited. It wasn't long. I remember thinking that my baby was dying inside me as I lay there. Around 1 a.m., the nurse came in and checked me and said that we could probably start to push. The labor itself was not difficult. He was so tiny...

At 1:45, our precious baby was born in silence. A little boy. Sarah cleaned him and wrapped him in a blanket. We had decided that we would hold him; that it might be hard, but we would regret it if we didn't take this opportunity. He was tiny. Perfect. Sleeping. We held him for a short time and then he was taken to another room. Exhausted, we slept then, or tried to, Billy on the couch he pushed up against my hospital bed.

On Saturday around noon, I checked out of the hospital. How empty I felt as the nurse wheeled me out to the car. No baby. Only the crushing emptiness. How empty the apartment felt when we came home. Sami was with her mother for the first part of the break. How empty I felt, literally, the life I'd carried for 19 weeks, gone. Just like that.