Milestones.

[The absence I miss the most is captured milestones].


 Year one – 11.2013

 First birthday.

I am empty and poured to entirety. I compromise values to ease the pain of uneaten, baby-pink cake and silent nurseries.

I befriend demons.

They take,

and take

and take. I am kidnapped from sanity. I teeter in the waves of grief amidst a pirated ship.

I still haven’t gained my sea legs for such a zealous voyage.

Year two – 11.2014

Left or right handed?

Thirty pounds of body shed –

I wish for the addition of your weight instead.

Sometimes, lightness is captured like Christmas morning’s unwrapping.

And other moments, I still correct my footing;

Knees akimbo – hoping the deep arches of my ballerina feet attach in strength and poise.


For every experience, I wish to take yours instead.

Because I know my greatest adventure will always be you.

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Bubble Gum Cigar

A bubble gum cigar left on my desk today.

Taunting me; baby-pink with bold letters:

It’s a girl.

II

I never understood cigars as celebration for new life;

The men with their smug grins, patting each other on the back

As if they were responsible for anything other than spitting their seed into a womb.

As if they have control over things like babies dying or mothers grieving

The pride of predictability reeling to snatch up their hopes and dreams

for their unborn carbon-copy.

III

It’s a girl.

Her Kermit-legs flopping from the sugar of Sunny Delight

Kicking her way into our hearts; she is no longer a blob on a screen.

I am unable to possess the self-control to keep it a surprise.

It’s a daughter.

Later that day, I accidentally refer to the ultrasound pictures as “her”

And my family bursts into laughs and exclamations of joy

All of us mapping the future for this long-awaited miracle.

IV

You never understand the life you willed for someone

Until that life is taken.

Who was I to have plans from the start?

Who am I to assume the better in this worse world?

V

Baby pink balloons

kissing the sky where you rest.

I was never able to be showered with celebration for your arrival

VI

I chew up the bubble gum;

it tastes like powder and envy

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

“I’m sorry.”

The look on the face of the doctor as she responded to the lifeless chamber of my daughter’s heart will forever be etched in my memory.

The rest of the events would be a chaotic blur – tainted by cruel decisions… “Would you like to birth your dead child tonight, or tomorrow morning? Would you like pain reliever? What are your burial plans?” Amongst the swirl of devastating questions, a name of an organization mixed into them. I had never heard of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and at the time, the idea of inviting a stranger into the sacred time I’d have with my daughter’s motionless body seemed invasive and assaulting. Luckily, divine intervention placed a nurse in my path that had been through the same thing not two months before. She talked about how she regretted being unable to obtain professional photos of her son after his birth. She softened the sting of shock by showing me some photos of her beautiful Benjamin that she’d taken on her cell phone. I needed to provide an answer soon. The on-call photographer had to be notified as soon as I was expected to deliver. With a reply that didn’t yet feel firm, I agreed to allow a NILMDTS photographer to come into my hospital room and document all the tiny features of my precious Carlie Wren.

Brandy entered my room with sensitivity and utmost respect. I remember not even sensing she was there. She moved around the room as if she were an extension of it; like she’d been there through the whole labor as a silent support.  I can’t explain to you the comradery I felt immediately. She was careful and intentional as she gently took my Carlie Wren’s body and looked her over. Carlie was my child, perfect in my sight. However, I knew to others, she might be a shock to look at. My stomach twisted as I wondered what she was thinking, her gaze whispering across my baby girl.  I’ll never forget the words that came out of Brandy’s mouth, like a breath of fresh air over this solemn occasion.

“She’s has such pretty features!”

Those words were a salve to my wounded Mother heart. I felt my heart swell with pride that should’ve come months later; the pride I expected to flood over me as I gave a squirming baby to relatives, wrapped in a hospital blanket. Still, Brandy validated my daughter as beautiful, and for a moment, I forgot my pain.

Brandy gave me a preview of her photos mere days later. I remember my heart catching in my throat, gasping at both the beauty and raw grief captured in a single photo. I cannot tell you if I’d ever forget Carlie Wren’s face or every aspect of her tiny body. But I do know that the photos Brandy captured were a time capsule I desperately needed. Photos are meant to freeze-frame moments in time. Though many aspects of her birth were traumatic and gut-wrenching, I never wanted to forget how she looked. As Mary Poppins says, she was “Practically perfect in every way.” Brandy preserved vulnerable, precious moments with dignity and respect. For that I will be forever grateful.

– Guest post I wrote for Brandy Smith Kemp documenting my experience with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.

Free Bird

I had to sit with a foster child at the hospital yesterday. She’d had a seizure in class, and her regular casework couldn’t get to Jackson, so I waited with her for a couple of hours until someone could get there.

She was groggy, but it made me smile when her blue eyes lit up and noticed my hair was purple. “It’s purple!” she said with a lazy grin.

After leaving her in the emergency room, I decided to take a walk to the Serenity Garden, where my sweet Carlie Wren’s name is engraved in the wall.

I developed hiccups right after leaving the room, and they were the painful, loud kind. I covered my mouth as I strolled by some passerbys, silently growling inside my head at the inconvenience.

I arrived to the garden, and I sat on a concrete bench. I remember feeling numb this day, for whatever reason, and the hiccups were breaking my concentration. Out of nowhere, I heard a sweet, playful little girl voice in my head.

I wanted to make you silly, mommy!

I smiled, realizing it was my daughter’s voice from heaven. She’s spoken to me a few times like this. Carlie had given me hiccups to make me silly. I laughed quietly to myself, and my hiccups immediately ceased.

ImageI got into the car, listening to the radio since my cell phone data has ended until the 15th. I usually listen to Spotify, but the radio was my only noise. I usually switch between stations when there’s a commercial, but lost in Carlie thoughts, I left it on.

102.3. The rocket. Where the last time we said ‘Free Bird’ was when we drove off from KFC without paying.

I laughed loudly to myself. Here was Carlie, trying to make me laugh again! My nickname for her is Free Bird, and I consider it her song. We even played it at the conclusion of her memorial service.

Then I got home, posted the picture above, and my sister smartly noticed that above Carlie’s name are mine, and hers.

Donna Jean Strayhorn

Ashley La’ Star Fly

That’s the day I realized I will never lose my baby bird.

I just have to listen a little harder, in between the hustle and bustle of everyday life.