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

Expectations vs. Reality

“I was supposed to be having the time of my life.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

What I would tell elementary school Ashley:

Kick every boy who makes you feel ugly. Hard. Don’t feel like you have to be girly. You are a tomboy for a reason. Embrace it.

 

What I would tell middle school Ashley:

Read as many books as you can get your hands on. (I know you do this already, but branch outside of the RL Stine category). Don’t let the other kids make you feel like you run funny. You’re athletic, even if you don’t know it. Enjoy games, regardless of whether you win or not. Stop obsessing about boys. You won’t marry a single one of them. Take this time to develop your own hobbies, interests, and passions, without having a boy in the equation. You are not a spoiled brat. You’re just sensitive. It’s often misunderstood. That’s okay.

What I would tell high school Ashley:

I wouldn’t change a thing about your goth phase. You’re beautiful. Realize that nice guys are good to date, if you’re going to date. I would prefer that you didn’t, but I know you won’t listen. Just because a guy teases you to show affection doesn’t mean that’s a good match. You’re too sensitive to have someone critiquing while claiming it is for comedic purposes. The first guy that tells you he loves you? Hold on to him longer. He will probably love you the hardest you’ve ever been loved. YOU ARE NOT FAT. Even though you don’t believe anything your mom says, she’s right: you have a woman’s body. Embrace it. Start working on your daddy issues. Now. Yes, you have them. Don’t put all your value in a single person. You will always feel mediocre if you place your worth in others. Above all, realize that your heavenly Father loves you more than a man ever will.

What I would tell college Ashley:

You are enough. You’ve gotten this far. Branch out; be fearless! Don’t spend your freshman year holed up in your dorm room. You are worthy of company, and you add to the lives of others with your presence. Take relationships slow. Snail’s pace. I know you have an issue with this, but trust me, it will be for the best. Decide on relationships with your head first, then your heart. Go ahead and break off your relationship with A.J. Long distance relationships never last long-term. Take a daily vitamin. Exercise as much as you can. Switch your major if you feel led to. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. Stop being so judgemental! Create a new relationship with God out of love, not obligation. You may be cut from a different cloth (after all, you’re no Southern Belle) but God made you just that way: fiesty and passionate. Do not bend on your stance concerning premartial sex. Do not put yourself in a situation where you have the ability to compromise. Learn that saying “no” is perfectly acceptable, and required, to not be hurt very badly.

What I would tell married Ashley:

To date, I have not found a man that exists who has eyes for only you. Get over it, somehow (and if you figure out how, let me know). It is not a reflection on you or your sexy meter. You are desirable. You are worthy. Do not let your partner manipulate you into thinking you’re crazy because you have intense emotions. Do not isolate. Run to a friend’s house, if you need to. Your identity is not in being a wife. If you’re not a natural at cooking, this does not make you less of a woman. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Make spontaneous decisions, but make sure you have the financial backbone to successfully execute them. Listen to me: I have to believe that one day you will be a mother. It’s the absolute frame of your existence. Take better care of yourself when you get pregnant. This includes both spiritually and emotionally. No matter what, you will think it was your fault. I still don’t know the answer to this, but I know that if you have a closer relationship with God, you will have no choice but to accept it as being His will. Don’t isolate. Breathe. Do not feel embarassed for continuing to grieve. You take all the time you need, because in reality, you will need every day of your life until you die. It never goes away. I won’t even say it gets better. But you learn to deal with the grief, somehow.

What I would tell future Ashley:

  I’m so happy you’re actually here. I know some days there for awhile, you weren’t sure if you would make it to today. You are stronger than you thought. You are doing wonderful things. You’re living the dream. I’m so proud of you.

What I tell Ashley:

I don’t really know. Take it one day at a time. You know what you need to do to be happy again. Don’t question it. It’s your intuition talking. It will get easier.

Be the hippy you’ve always wanted to be. 

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.