I’m not a risk taker by nature. I’m a lady who likes traditions, detailed, color-coded itineraries and a carefully curated meal plan. I prefer predictability over spontaneity. I like methodology and road maps and the glorious results of vigilant planning. There is nothing more satisfying to me than crossing items off a to-do list. I can’t even deviate from the five nail polish colors that I’ll use for some ridiculous reason that makes no sense to anyone, even myself. Pray for me, people. I am this person despite my fervent desire to be different. I desperately want to be one of those people who takes a road trip with no idea where they’re going except for the knowledge it will be an adventure. That sounds absolutely amazing to me. I picture my husband and I in a convertible, driving down the highway and laughing at our impulse to go on adventures without a care in the world. Cut to the reality of me trying to do that in my Nissan Altima and having a panic attack in the driver’s seat as my husband tries to “lovingly and gently” remind me this was my dumb idea in the first place (numerous times and in more colorful and descriptive language) and can we please, for the love of GOD, just go home and plan a vacation like normal human beings? Bless his heart, he knows me all too well.
My darling friend, Mandy, one of my grief journey guides over the past seven years, introduced me to a term that perfectly describes the path I’ve unexpectedly taken since Caleb died. It is in direct contrast to the way I prefer to live my life and can make me feel wildly out of control. “Leap like a LUNATIC!” she would tell me, causing a horrified expression and many, many excuses to the contrary as to why I can’t possibly do that. “Leap like a Lunatic” was her battle cry; the armor in which she wrapped her broken heart after the loss of her beautiful daughter, Audree. Because of the out of control nature and uncertainty of our post-pregnancy loss lives, it was something that made complete sense to her.
She told me that it would take a long time to fully know and understand the new me and in the meantime, I should just leap like a lunatic. Try new things, she said, things that could help my grief journey and heal pieces of my shattered heart. Leap into the unknown, leap into plugging into the infant loss community who would be there to cheer me on despite you not being a “group” person. Leap into starting the nonprofit to help others like us that we had exactly zero experience or knowledge on how to do. Leap like a lunatic in spectacular fashion, she encouraged me, which is exactly what I did. After a few journaling sessions and trying to plan out exactly how I could “leap like a lunatic”. Perhaps a pie chart or a graph could make it look more orderly, I thought? Face palm…. I’m beyond help sometimes.
Leaping like a lunatic became my own battle cry after I gave up the pretense that I had control. Is this something I’m perfect at? Absolutely, un-equivocally NO. The struggle is real for me, y’all, to get this practice down. It takes pushing against every internal wiring chip I’ve got, every need to make a list or a plan. And time and time again, when I come to the precipice of leaping and my little planner brain tries to make me question everything, I remember the times I HAVE leapt, and how unexpected and dare I say, magnificent, the results are!
My husband and I started The Beautiful Scar Project to help other families like us who had lost babies. It should be just a little easier, we told each other while in the hospital having Caleb. We decided we wanted to start a non-profit while in the hospital making memories with our stillborn son before we had to say goodbye. Did we leave the hospital, get started on paperwork and make it happen right away? That’s a resounding NO. But we did continue to chew on the idea and one day in 2013, after many (so many) months of working with a lawyer (shout out to Cara, who we love and adore!) and going back and forth on the oh-so-fun IRS and inception paperwork, we took a huge leap and submitted the documents. It was one of the scariest days for me because my inner voice kept telling me that we weren’t experts and had no clue what we were doing. I work in the corporate world for goodness sakes and my husband runs bars. What in the WORLD were we doing thinking we could run a non-profit? The day our 501c3 determination letter arrived at our door and the word “accepted” was on that piece of paper… Y’ALL. There was nothing like that feeling.
I didn’t stop there. Hubs and I put on a golf tournament that we had no clue how to do. We decided to adopt out of foster care even though we had no idea how to parent kiddos coming from trauma and neglect backgrounds. I became a facilitator of the support group I had attended for years when the voice in my head said I didn’t have the wisdom to help other people. I gave a speech at a bereavement ceremony at the hospital where we lost Caleb when I didn’t think I could stand just from being in the same place I experienced the worst days of my life. I’ve sat on parent panels for the medical community, done surveys about life after loss and attended support groups and community events; I started this blog, for heaven’s sake! ALL things that required me to leap. ALL things that made me feel uneasy and not in control.
It’s been seven years and I keep leaping. It hasn’t been with everything in my life- I don’t make reckless or wildly inappropriate decisions. (I HOPE!) However I with each leap I keep growing and, I realized a few years ago, healing a little at a time. The biggest leap I made, however, was by telling the story of my four angel babes. Especially when I’ve been told over and over and OVER again that people have had enough; it’s time to stop talking about it. I’m a people pleaser in the worst way and I hate the idea of disappointing people or upsetting them; no more so than the people I love. But I couldn’t stop talking about my babies. I couldn’t stop talking about other peoples’ babies and how it was so unfair and heartbreaking that they’re not in the arms of their parents at this very moment. I couldn’t stop standing up for those who were unable to tell their own stories, despite how uncomfortable it made the people in my own life. I’ve lost decades-long relationships with people who I considered family because they wanted me to stop talking. Stop advocating. Stop educating. They needed me to just STOP being the new me and go back to the old me- the me they understood. The people pleaser in me was desperate to find a way to make the new me and those cherished relationships work; but I couldn’t. My babies, my story, is my line of demarcation in the sand and so I had to let go. It was devastating. But freeing, at the same time.
Leaping like a lunatic doesn’t come without letting go of some things. Security, predictability, feeling like you have control, and even relationships with people you love at times. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to leap into the unknown, especially if that leap is into the arms of the pregnancy and infant loss community. Those arms will hold you up on your hardest days, encourage you to be proud of your beautiful scars, and walk alongside you in your new normal. Maybe you’re scared to share a picture of your sweet babe who passed away. Maybe you’re a people pleaser like me and don’t want to upset anyone by discussing your grief or your story or even saying your baby’s name. Maybe you have a great idea for a book or a business to bring into the infant loss community space but you’re not quite an expert so you stop yourself. Leaping isn’t only for big things like starting a business or writing a book. Leaping like a lunatic looks different for everyone and it could mean you got up out of bed, showered, put on mascara for the first time in weeks (or months) and you went to Starbucks and bought yourself a coffee. That’s leaping too.