Thursday, August 29, 2013


This morning we are packing up and heading out to a weekend in the mountains. I cannot WAIT to get out of this blistering heat and into the gloriousness of the cool and majestic Tetons, where I plan to disconnect from technology and enjoy the much needed time with my family.

My papa will be there, which I am so excited about! And of course, just being with all of my loved ones makes everything that much better.

But before I go, I did want to tell you that I have finally given in and joined TWITTER!

Woah Nelly! :) I hope you'll come find me! Do you tweet? If you do, you can find me HERE!

What are you up to this holiday weekend? (Besides the obvious of becoming my first follower on Twitter ;)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Name is HANNA

My name is Hanna, and my mom is an angel.

When I was 16 years old, my mom died. 
She was hit by an ATV while riding her bicycle and killed instantly.  I’ve often felt like “my mom died” was an invisible scar that I carried around –a big part of who I am that is hard to share with new people without being awkward. Some people have had trauma in their life that is easy to see – they’ve been burned in a fire or lost a limb in an accident. Then there are the traumas that can’t be seen – living through an arduous relationship, a secret addiction, or a tragic death.
I was sitting in 10th grade psychology class when I was called to the office. I was met by a neighbor telling me that there had been an accident and I needed to come home.  I learned there that my mom and 12 year old sister had been hit – killing my mom and injuring my sister. I don’t remember when or where I learned the big twist in the story…maybe at our house surrounded by neighbors and police officers? Or maybe at the hospital surrounded by more neighbors and nurses?
The person who happened to be driving down our street and lost control of his ATV was our bishop’s (our church leader) son.

I didn’t know this boy very well. He was a couple of years older than me and I’d seen him around school before he graduated. His parents, however, were dear friends of our family. 

The emotions of losing a family member unexpectedly are complex. But add to that the fact that another family you know and love is now hurting in ways unimaginable, and it’s hard to describe how I felt. Our family was devastated to lose our sweet, wonderful mother, but our faith assured us that we would see her again. She was not in pain or suffering. However, the boy and his family – our friends – were suffering greatly at the thought of having been the cause of our family’s grief.
In the 13 years since my mom died, I’ve seen people lose family members due to other’s negligence, and I’ve come to realize how blessed I was to know this boy and his family. I’ve followed a family whose baby was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. I was surprised by how much their healing – both emotional and physical – directly related to their ability to forgive or not forgive the drunk driver. When my mom died, some people expected that I would be angry at the boy who hit her. The world dictates that it’s common sense to feel anger or hatred towards someone who has wronged you... But I knew the boy who killed my mom. I loved his family. His parents were like the parents of our ward at church. I admired their relationship – hoping to someday emulate their marriage.

How could I hate this boy when I knew he must be going through hell? 

Whether or not I would forgive him was never even a question for me. I don’t remember ever feeling any malice or anger or even negative feelings towards him. All I felt for him was love and sorrow for what he must be going through. I remember wishing there was some way that I could help him and take away the deep pain that I saw in him and that I saw in his family.
In the time following my mom’s death, we got to know the boy better and our families will be forever entwined. They have been there as we each found our way through trials, got married, and started families. And I’ll never forget how happy I was to see his smile at his wedding reception. We rejoice in each other’s triumphs and pray when someone is struggling. There have been many struggles.  It’s been heartbreaking to see him go through the emotional fallout. No teenager should have to deal with that. 

In turn, going through adolescence without a mother’s guidance is no easy task, either. My brother and sister and I each accomplished it with differing degrees of challenge – from getting into slight mischief, to drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse. Each of us has taken our own path, but one thing we all had in common is that we have all felt my mother’s presence and guidance throughout. Even though she couldn’t be there physically, we have all felt her at different times in our lives and know she is still as much our mother as ever.

One of the biggest blessings during our time of learning to cope with no mom was our neighbors. I can only begin to list all of the ways that they served our family – from meals and housework to becoming surrogate moms and guardians. They taught me the true meaning of community and “love thy neighbor”. Jacy and her family were one of those great neighbors. Though we go through periods where we don’t get to see each other or even talk much, I will always have a special place in my heart for them and all of the other wonderful families who helped me (a few of whom I know follow this blog :)

We all have events in our life whereby we measure time. Something either happened before “x” or after “x”. Losing my mom is definitely one of those events. They say “time heals all wounds” and maybe I just haven’t reached that amount of time yet. But I’m not sure if it does “heal” all wounds. I think with time we find the ways to cope with all wounds. They get less raw and we don’t feel them quite as often as we used to. I still have days when I will be caught off guard by a memory, a sight, or even nothing at all and suddenly my eyes fill with tears as my heart fills with a terrible aching, sadness, or longing to see or even talk to my mom again. But really, I wouldn’t want to lose those feelings. As sad as they may be, I’m also thankful for these moments of recollection and clarity because I feel like maybe Mom’s not so far away.

Remembering difficult times can be painful, but it also helps me remember the blessings. I want to apply the lessons I learned then to my life now. Forgiveness – even for great offenses – brings untold healing. We never know what our kindnesses to those around us – our neighbors – may mean to them. Even pain can be a bittersweet reminder of love and happiness; and when all’s said and done, I wouldn’t want to lose the sweet in order to skip the bitter. For it is the hard times that help us appreciate the good.

p.s. I’ve struggled to know what parts of this story to share. There is so much more to it. But much of it has to do with our religion and faith, and I wanted to keep it general to be able to relate to as many of those reading as possible. However, many people who were involved in the events surrounding my mom’s death felt they should record their account of it. I’ve made it a goal to compile all of these accounts and will be posting them on a blog. If you want to read more, feel free to follow along. And if you knew my mom, I would love to add to the compilation anything you might want to share – memories of her, how her death affected you, things you learned from her, etc.

**Remember that the purpose of this series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. Hanna will be reading your comments so you may comment directly to her. 

*Hanna, I love  you so very much. And I loved your mom so very much. I will never forget this day and the intense sadness and sorrow I (and everyone) felt. Your mama was one of the sweetest women I had ever met and I feel blessed to have had her in my life in those very critical years. Your perspective is so beautiful. You are beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us today!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The "D" Word: What About the Kids?

This is part two of The "D" Word. You can read the first part here.

The Little Red House- Sheena Jibson

I think the majority of the time the number one, biggest, concern for any woman even considering the possibility of divorce is what about my children?

Before I proceed let me preface this by saying that I understand that this is a very, very, VERY, sensitive and personal subject. Your ideas and thought process and approach will all be different. There is no fix-it solution. There is nothing I can say that will make ANY of it easier.

This is not advice. This is not the best and/or only way to approach this. This is simply something that someone told me a long time ago, and I'd like to pass it along to you:

(Now, I am not a historian, nor do I have the time to research every known fact. While I cannot say this with as much eloquence and knowldege that it was once told to me, I will do my best. This is a very simplified, early morning version :)

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years many children have been raised without a mother and father under the same roof.

Mothers have died due to complications of childbirth.

Mothers have died of plagues.

Mothers have died of tragic accidents.

And some mothers may have just left willingly, never to be seen again.

In that same breath, fathers have been sent off to war.

Fathers have been called on religious or political missions.

Fathers have had work that have taken them away for months or even years at a time.

Fathers have died in battle.

Fathers have died of disease.

Fathers have died of tragic accidents.

And some fathers may have just left willingly, never to be seen again.

While it is a beautiful dream that all children, everywhere, have been (and will be) raised with both a mother and father present in the home, all the time, this just isn't reality-- and it hasn't been for a long, long time.

Flash forward to now, in the modern-day.

While some of these scenarios I listed above may still happen, many children nowadays are being raised without a mother and a father in the same home due to divorce.

Let's take a moment to be very honest and real here.

Regardless of your personal opinion or belief on the controversial topic of divorce, sometimes divorce is the only option. Like, if someone just leaves the marriage. You can't force anyone to stay somewhere they don't want to and so, if that happens, you are left completely alone with no choice whatsoever. Divorce is inevitable and even if you wanted something different, you deal with it-- and so do your kids.

One the other hand, sometimes divorce is the safest option for you and your children. Like, if there is abuse, neglect, and/or your safety or wellbeing is at risk. Sometimes you HAVE TO leave and no one can argue it. You deal with it-- and so do your kids.

And sometimes divorce is the best option because for whatever reasons, you feel deep within your soul that this is the best option for everyone involved. Like, you positively know it because you are the one living in it and no one can tell you otherwise. And so, you deal with it-- and so do your kids.

Some of the most wonderful friends I have have been raised without a mother and father in the same household. Their parents chose divorce for a plethora of different reasons and no matter the why's of it all, these friends are good, loving, successful people and they are living honest, fulfilling, happy lives. Sure they've probably had hardships related to the divorce, but even the children raised in "still-married" homes have hardships for various other reasons.

Also, some of the most wonderful friends I have are raising their children in a co-parenting scenario because they chose divorce for a plethora of different reasons. No matter the why's of it all, these friends are good, loving, successful people and their children are living honest, fulfilling, happy lives, as well. Sure their children probably have hardships related to the divorce, but even the children raised in "still-married" homes have hardships for various other reasons.

Am I sounding repetitive here? Good... that's the point!

Welcome to real life.

Welcome to a life that turns out far from how you planned it to.

Nothing will ever be perfectly ideal.

So here's the one bit of advice I will give today:

Deal with life with LOVE!

Just as you would raise your children with LOVE if your spouse was suddenly killed in a fatal car accident or contracted some deadly disease, the same goes for raising your children if your family isn't "traditional" for whatever reason. Raise them with LOVE because if LOVE is the common thread, then children will thrive in knowing how to give love, and how to receive love, despite if their parents stayed married or not.

Now I'm not saying run out and on a whim just get divorced because it gets hard. No way. But I am saying that IF divorce becomes a reality in your life and it is the only option, the safest option or the best option, let me remind you of something.... you are not a failure! And you are not failing your children! There will be hard days.... and it won't be ideal every minute of every day..... but they can and will still be happy and healthy and strong.

If you do all things with love, it is impossible to fail; even if the "D" word is involved.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bigger Picture

As I was scrolling through the various updates of children, days at work, yummy recipes, good news, heartbreaking news and all the other random thoughts on Facebook last night, I saw this updated profile picture of my Aunt Valerie.

I commented this:

"VAL! You look INCREDIBLE! Holy moly this brought the BIGGEST smile to my face! Miss you... love you.... thinking of you all the time!"

Now, most people would look at this picture and my comment and think nothing of it. Just a normal comment on an updated profile picture, right?

But what most people don't know is that my Aunt Valerie, this woman, smiling and radiant and beautiful as ever, is battling Stage 4 lung cancer.

She's never smoked a day in her life. Passing her in the grocery store, you would have no idea.

As other people began to comment on her updated Facebook feed she said,

"Thanks you guys. I just wanted to let people know, I am still alive, and feeling quite well."

Her words pierced me. 

I messaged her within seconds asking if I could share this on my blog.

Among other things, she replied with, "Honored."

You guys.... I was so very impressed to share this with you because I think this is a message that can be applied to each and every one of us today (and everyday). Looking at my brave Aunt Val... I am acutely reminded of the BIGGER picture.

Life is beautiful. 

Life is precious. 

Life is a gift.

Our time here is so valuable.


  • Hug your little ones a little tighter.
  • Express your love to your parents and family members. 
  • Call your friends who you haven't heard from in a while.
  • Send a message of encouragement to someone who needs it. 
  • Write down a list of all the beautiful blessings you DO have .

I imagine when "how much time we have left" becomes a very real reality, the world looks completely different.  I imagine that life presents a whole new meaning. I imagine the premium for all that we love is so much higher. 

So take a moment today, set your daily routine aside, put everything that isn't right on the back burner for just a little bit, and reflect at just how miraculous you are... how miraculous life is... and how many special people surround you.

To my Aunt Val... I love you. Thank you for being an inspiration. I am rooting for you... every single day.... you are in our heart and thoughts and prayers... and Seth and I still wear our white and black cheetah bracelets that say "Lick It Lung Cancer!"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Name is SIDREIS

My Name is Sidreis (si-dreece).

I am a wife, a mom, a student, and an avid church goer.  I am also in recovery from a sexual addiction.

I feel the topic of sexual addiction among women is still somewhat taboo.  Even though our generation is moving into a very progressive era, there are still massive amounts of shame, stigma and stereotyping surrounding women who struggle with sexual addiction.

I am here to give voice to awareness and hope.

My addiction started when I was a young girl.  It wasn’t born from abuse or neglect… but simply from unbridled curiosity.  

Throughout my life, my addiction has grown into a massive tree with many branches.  Masturbation, pornography, sexual promiscuity, and same sex attraction, to name a few.

I have learned, however, that no matter what the behavior, the root feelings are the same.  I have been bound by hopelessness, worthlessness, loneliness, despair, and shame.

Shame is an absolute monster.  Shame is bigger than addiction itself.

The shame I have carried was so great, that I lived alone in my addiction for over twenty years.  I was too terrified to tell anyone.  I felt that if I did, I would be shunned and scorned, or worse, that I would be discarded like a piece of used gum.  

I was conflicted, though.  

As much as I felt shame, I’d grown to love my addiction.  I loved the way it made me feel.  It also numbed all the emotional pain I felt.  It helped me forget that my behavior was against all that I hold true, and helped me forget the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness that I felt.

But then something happened.

I was in a local retail store sifting through greeting cards and I came upon one that spoke to more than anything ever had.  I took a picture of it. 

(Sorry about the quality, this was taken back in 2009 when phones had crappy cameras hah!)

It was time.

I finally reached out for help.  I risked, in a huge way, and the payoff was worth way more than the risk itself.

I began meeting with the bishop of my church, attending recovery meetings, and reading as much recovery material as I could get my hands on.  I also started working, and living the Twelve Steps of recovery.  

Through the Steps I was able to learn how to turn my addiction over to God and let Him heal me.  I learned that I am innately worthy and valuable, simply because I am His daughter.  

A huge part of my recovery has come from reaching out to others and expanding my support system.  Addiction is a disease of isolation.  Once we are alone, we are in the battle zone of self hate and loathing.  It is virtually impossible to escape on our own.  

Personal connection, vulnerability, and emotional intimacy with others are absolutely essential to creating and maintaining healthy relationships.   Those healthy relationships are, in turn, essential to maintaining recovery.

My recovery has been the hardest work I have ever accomplished in my life, but in return, I got my life back.

I am free
I am able to love
I am valuable
I am happy

My name is not Addict
My name is not Hopeless
My name is not Lost

My name is Found.

I would not be where I am today without my God, the steps, and the support system I have in place.

There is hope.  If you are struggling, please know that you are not alone.  Reach out, tell someone.  Tell me, if you want.  I am here.  I will listen.  Don’t live in the darkness any longer.  Step into the light and bask in its warmth.

That is my invitation to you.

Remember that the purpose of this series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. Sidreis will be reading your comments so you may comment directly to her. And Sidreis has a blog if you want to know more-

** I am honored and humbled and so lucky to be able to call this amazing woman my friend. Words cannot express how brave and courageous and beautiful I think she is. You are a beacon of hope and light, Sidreis. Thank you for being YOU and for sharing your story here. 

P.S. Watch this. She is amazing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

YAY or NAY: Relive High School?

Someone asked me this the other day:

"If you could, would you go back to high school?"

The mere thought of the two words high and school together made me queasy.

Sure, I had some really awesome memories but holy cow, it. was. rough. too.


I remember walking past a hand-painted sign I had created hanging by Mrs. Spore's home-ec class. It was a requirement for cheerleading and at the bottom of every sign, we had to write our names so that our cheer coach could track it.

From afar, I admired my sign. Go FLYER'S! it read in bubbly font. Not bad  I thought to myself. The polka dot stars offered a really nice touch. But something was there, at the bottom, next to my name, that I didn't remember adding.

I walked over to my sign for a closer inspection.

To my sad surprise, the letters that spelled my name were crossed out and the word B**** covered them in black permanent marker.

My insides blazed with hurt. I felt feverish. No one likes to be called out like that.

I walked into the bathroom around the corner and cried. I couldn't take the sign down... it was there for everyone to see....


Flash forward to about 5 years later.

I was married. Working a full time job as a furniture saleswoman.

A cute girl walked in the door. She was my "up".

"Hi! How are you today? What can I help you with?" I asked.

We recognized each other. We had gone to school together. Somewhere in the middle of helping her find the perfect sofa, she said to me.

"You know, I always thought you were such a stuck up snob in high school. I couldn't stand you!"

My insides blazed with hurt again. Just like they did before. I felt feverish. No one likes to be called out like that, even if I was supposed to be mature now.

I walked into the break room, after she had left, and I felt so stupid. So utterly stupid and shaken up that someone remembered me as being a "snob" and actually told me about it face-to-face, all these years later.


Fast forward to now. Present day. After everything I have been through.

The crazy part about high school for me is that many people thought I was snobby.... or rude... or too cool... or whatever they thought... Truth be told, I had a lot of really wonderful friends and happy memories and irreplaceable moments, but I also had A LOT of really hurtful things happen. I won't go into all those because they mean so little now (you can read about some of those experiences here)... but it's so strange to think that other's perceived me as being "too good" back then. Especially when, in all honesty, I was so insecure. I had moments of being and appearing confident in some aspects of my life (like my talents and accomplishing things) but when it came to 'all things that involved being a teenage girl', I was a total puddle.

So to answer the question of "If you could, would you go back to high school?"

I would say a big FAT no!

One time was enough and I'd rather not go back.

Now, however, if the question was "If you HAD to go back to high school, what would you do differently?"

I think I would first freak out a little bit. Maybe experience a bit of a panic attack. Once I regained consciousness, I would make a game plan. I would make a plan to step out of myself as best as I possibly could at that maturity level and be KINDER to everyone around me. I would be less self centered and try to be more compassionate and understanding. Because looking back, we were all the exact same in just trying to figure it out. We all made stupid mistakes then (we still make stupid mistakes, all of us, all the time) but I would be more conscientious of the classmates who surrounded me every single day.

What about YOU?

"YAY or NAY: If you could, would you go back to high school?"


"If you HAD to go back to high school, what would you do differently?"

Monday, August 19, 2013

W-O-R-T-H Group

Along with everything else that is happening around here, I am thrilled to let you guys in on a little secret!

I have been in cahoots with my awesome therapist, Maurice Harker. But it hasn't been in a therapy session discussing my personal healing like it has in the last 3.5 years. Instead, I have been invited by Maurice to join his team and act as a WORTH Group facilitator- an invitation that I am beyond humbled and honored and so very excited about!

So, what exactly is WORTH you ask? Well I have been apart of this amazing group since my journey began and let me tell you, it has changed my life and these women, the women of WORTH, have become some of my very closest friends.

Women of Rebirth- Therapeutic Healing

There is a group of women among us who are being forced out of their dream marriages by the significant misbehavior's of their husbands. Often times, these particular women have a history of trying to be a righteous, good woman. She followed all the rules that were supposed to “guarantee” a good husband and a good marriage. She tried to be a good wife by meeting all of his needs. But nonetheless, he stepped out of the marriage and betrayed her through sexual addiction, an affair, or anything like unto such.

The shock of discovering what her husband has done throws her into a state of absolute confusion and pain. After enjoying the comfort and safety of the marriage she thought she had, these women are left in the cold, feeling completely alone and on their own, and many with varying numbers of children to care for. 

These women have no instruction manual to follow.


If you are reading this right now and your heart is racing... and your face is red... and your chest burns... and your stomach feels sick.... is it because you can relate? Have you found yourself amidst the uncertainty of a new and totally unexpected reality? Do you feel totally clueless as to how you should navigate through this very unfamiliar, lonely and painful environment? Has the sexual addiction/misbehavior/infidelity of your spouse (or boyfriend or a loved one) changed your life in ways you never thought it could?

If your head is nodding and your heart is telling you that the answer is YES...

YOU are invited to join the women of W-O-R-T-H!

Who are the Women of WORTH?

W-O-R-T-H consists of the most compassionate of women, all of whom have been in (or are currently in) your very shoes. Whether married, divorced, or remarried (no matter age) these beautiful women compose a community that works through their new reality as a TEAM. But they cannot do it alone. We have found that the discussions concerning the many serious aspects of this complexity and its serious effects can easily go askew without the guidance of professional insight. Thus, W-O-R-T-H offers guidance, support and expertise of two professional therapists:

Maurice specializes in marriage therapy, especially if sexual misbehavior's are part of the problem. He trains adult men to over come sexual addiction and he works to help heal the wives of sexual addicts. He is effective in helping individuals fighting anxiety and depression issues and has an ability to help women work through difficult issues relating to any form of abuse in their marriages.

Jennifer is an empathic, caring, results-oriented therapist who believes that all people possess the ability to overcome life’s obstacles. She has worked with a variety of concerns, including but not limited to, addiction, spouse addiction, grief, trauma, anxiety, depression, relationship concerns and life transitions. Jennifer empowers clients to build upon existing strengths, as well as developing new coping skills.

By joining the women of W-O-R-T-H, you will have not only have the opportunity to experience empowering relationships with other women who understand you, but will you also receive edifying education from therapists who will help you navigate through your new unfamiliar life. This is accomplished by offering efficient therapeutic conversations on-line, using a confidential email group.

After a pre-screening, each woman is invited into the confidential, by invitation only, email group.  Participants use their own email address and have the option of creating a user-name. Our two clinicians (along with other group members) will initiate topics of discussion and/or questions. Participants will be invited to share portions of their story and will be encouraged to share things they have learned from their own studies and experiences . The clinicians are there to guide and train, as well as to monitor the group conversations and ensure it remains positive and healthy. Every time a participant or clinician replies, a copy of that reply is delivered to all other participants. This creates an ongoing conversation and allows for all of the discussions to be stored. 

Daily: While it is always a powerful experience to meet in person, we are finding that the on-line group is equally as beneficial because the participants have access to daily support if needed. This helps women address issues in a more timely manner and it also helps for those times when unexpected crisis hits in the wee hours of the morning.  When this happens, women in need can type up her concerns/questions at anytime and within 24 hours, other women, group leaders, and/or the clinicians will respond with useful information and insights.

Cost: We are sensitive to the fact that finances are limited if a woman finds herself in this situation- therefor, the cost is now $15 per week.


(and, yes, we are talking to YOU! You are welcome here!)

Don't let the unexpected sorrow, the agonizing hurt and the overwhelming uncertainty of sexual addiction/misbehavior's/infidelity of another hold you captive! You are capable of overcoming, you have profound worth, and you are safe here! In this empowering group, you will discover that you are not alone... and that you don't have to go through this difficulty alone, either.

Let Maurice Harker, Jennifer Johnson and the women of W-O-R-T-H help you! 

**TO ENROLL or for any other questions: Call Jennifer Johnson at (801)510-6997 or send an email to with the subject "WORTH ENROLLMENT"

You can find more information about Maurice and Jennifer at Life Changing Services.

To learn more about Jacy (the newest Worth Group Facilitator), click HERE.

*photo credit: Steve Thomas (do not use without permission)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Greatest Accomplishment

I am finding this to be even more true with each passing day of my life. There are a myriad of "greatest accomplishments" in my eyes but being ME is really high on that list.

I hope being YOU is high on your "greatest accomplishment" list too.

Although, I do believe that this "accomplishment" is more of a "something we will work on for the entire duration of our lives" sort of thing.  Good things take time.

Have a happy and safe weekend!

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Name is JONAH

The story of me and Ivan is a lot like the story of Jonah and the Whale.  I'm Jonah in this story.  Not the whale like you were thinking.  Though I was pregnant and very much whale-like with Ivan for forty-two weeks and a day.  But I guess that's more like being an elephant and not a whale.  Aren't elephants pregnant for like two years or something?  Anyway, I'm Jonah.  You're Jonah.  We're all Jonah. 

My name is Jonah and I'm a bereaved mother.

Very early on in my pregnancy with Ivan, I knew something was wrong.  I just knew.  Nobody believed me.  My belly was measuring small and my morning sickness didn't abate at twelve weeks like it did with my two other children.  And somehow, don't ask me how, I knew it was anencephaly.  Long before an ultrasound, I was already trying to come to terms with burying my baby.  I had already cried.  I was already asking myself questions like where would I bury him?  How would my five-year-old daughter cope?  I tried to talk myself out of it but I knew.  I knew the heartbreak was great.  I could feel the trauma reaching back from the future to get me.  This event was out there in space-time and had somehow already burned me.

In the car on the way to my eighteen-week ultrasound, I chided my husband for being so upbeat.  I  said, “Don't be so happy.  You're about to find out your baby doesn't have a brain.”  

A few moments into the ultrasound,  I thought I saw the profile of a nice, round skull go past.  Phew!  My baby has a skull!  See, Alana, everything's going to be fine.  I wondered if it was a healthy baby boy or a healthy baby girl.  Then the ultrasound tech said, “I'm just going to tell you right away...there is something seriously wrong with your baby.”  Before he said another word, I said, “Is it anencephaly?”  He was shocked.  “How did you know?” he asked.  “I just knew,” I said.  He asked me several more times how I knew before conceding,  “I've been doing this long enough to know that Moms just know things.”  Yes they do.  

My baby's neural tube didn't close.  Part of his skull never formed.  He was going to die.

I started crying immediately in the office and fell apart completely by the time we got into the car. Why?  How?  Is it my fault?  Not my baby!  Not my sweet baby!   But I want him!  I want my baby!  I really want my baby!  I wondered why this felt so bad.  After all, I had been through the sudden death of my father and the suicide of my brother.  This was just a little baby I hadn't even met, I reasoned.  Why did it feel as bad and worse than losing someone I had known and loved my whole life?  

After finding myself alone in the house later that day, I fell on my face on the carpet of my living room floor and out of the belly of hell cried I!   I sort of thought it would be a good idea for God to take Ivan home then and I told Him so.  I couldn't hold my baby in my arms and watch him die. Then a thought was whispered to me and it went like this:  Maybe God knows better than you do, Alana. I started laughing deeply and out loud.  My laugh startled me but it was appropriate.  I had just grasped for the first time ever that God is God and He must know best, right?  My will compared to His was ludicrous.  Like, really funny.  Of course He knows best...He's like, God!  Duh!  

Ivan wasn't leaving me just yet and I knew it.  I knew I would get to meet him and had about five months, I figured, to enjoy him.  I treasured each kick, each hiccup. Whenever I had my other two kids in the bath tub, I would sit on the tile floor and revel in that fact that all three of my kids were alive and kicking and with me in that moment.  I tried, I really tried to soak Ivan all in.  It turns out, though, I didn't soak enough in!  It turns out you don't appreciate anything 'til it's gone, no matter how hard you try.  If I had no regrets or guilt, it simply wouldn't be death.

My due date came and went.  My doctors were ready and willing to induce me any time and  I could tell they wondered at the source of my patience. They didn't know what I knew:  If was induced, I wouldn't meet Ivan alive. Labor would be slower, the contractions longer and harder.  A long delivery would be too hard on his fragile head.  I knew if I wanted to meet him alive, I had to go into labor naturally and deliver quickly without an epidural to slow things down.  Moms just know things.  

Each day was a gift and I was fully prepared to carry forty-four weeks.  Or two years like an elephant.  Or forever.  At forty-two weeks and a day, labor arrived.  I paced the house between contractions, singing lullabies to Ivan and crying.  I wasn't ready!  I wasn't ready to let him go.  Please not today, I thought.  Please not yet.  Oh, God!  Let me keep him!

At the onset of each contraction, I visualized looking up at a tall island mountain.  Then I would imagine going under the ocean and down, down, down to the bottom of that mountain.  After the contraction peaked, I would imagine slowly coming back to the surface of the sea. This visualization technique had arrived in my mind uninvited while I was in labor with my previous son two years prior.  I was surprised by it then and chuckled upon realizing my mind had borrowed this whole bottoms-of- the-mountains business from the the story of  Jonah in the Bible:

Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fishes belly.  And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me;  out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.  For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about:  all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.  Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.  The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.  I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever:  yet thou hast brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.  When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord:  and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.  And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

Did a great fish literally swallow Jonah?  I don't know.  Maybe. I don't really care if it's literal or figurative or both.  That's not the point.  The point is redemption.  The point is having the weeds wrapped about your head and the waters compassing you about, even to the soul!  The point is feeling cast out of God's sight. The point is being in the fish's belly and how to get out.

Childbirth is agony by the way.  Losing a loved one is agony.  That kind of pain (both physical and spiritual) is for me, visually,  beneath the sea, at the bottoms of the mountains and inside the belly of a great fish where it feels like God can't even see you.  

I know you know this place.  I know you've been there too.  

I labored several hours in a warm bath at the hospital with the lights dim and the room quiet.  My husband knelt beside the tub and poured water over my belly during contractions.  Some tears formed and fell silently from my eyes while in the tub but not for sorrow.  For sacredness.  That was the only time I've ever cried because of sacredness.  I don't know how else to describe it.  It was beautiful.

I had come to realize in those last months that the reason I could grieve so deeply for this tiny, supposed stranger was because time isn't the way we perceive it and that's a scientific fact.  I have a relationship with my son that exists out there somewhere.  It already is and has been. He's my son from all eternity to all eternity.  Just because our paths were only going to cross here and now briefly didn't mean our love was less.  He is my son and I knew him when I saw him.  

Contrary to the original diagnosis, Ivan was born with exencephaly, not anencephaly.  He had his entire brain but it was protruding through an opening in his crown.  He had a chromosome disorder called Trisomy 18 which is what caused his neural tube defect.  He also had enlarged kidneys and a single umbilical artery. And bless his precious thumb on his right looked like a pinky in the wrong place.

Meeting Ivan face to face was magical.  My Mama eyes couldn't have seen his defects with a microscope.  He was perfect!  Oh, my sweet, sweet baby boy!  He had a lot to say to me.  He made many baby sounds with his very own little voice, told me all about it.  He yawned two adorable yawns.  He opened his eyes a lot and looked into mine. I was so very, very happy. 

There was no way of knowing how much time we would have.  Ivan seemed so strong and pink and definitely wasn't waning yet.  My five-year-old daughter had expressed a desire to meet him before he died.  I felt nervous about my husband driving home to get her.  What if Ivan dies while he is gone?  But I was  more nervous about my daughter missing the chance to meet her brother.  I let the nurse bathe him so he would be cleaned up and not startle his sister.  While the nurse wiped Ivan down, I  turned my gown around, wiped off some blood and practiced my normal face.  It was during his bath Ivan started to weaken.  I started to panic and wanted him back in my arms immediately.  I had an incredible midwife who came to the hospital with me to be my doula. She told Ivan to hold on until his Daddy got back and that's exactly what he did. I knew he would wait for his Dad.  Ivan knew that was important.

My daughter experienced a little panic of her own and decided she didn't want to come to the hospital after all so my husband rushed back to the hospital without her.  In retrospect, I'm sick with guilt that it went down that way.  I'm sorry my husband missed thirty minutes of Ivan's short life.  I'm sorry I gave up those precious moments to bathe him when he could have been in my arms.  I worry that leaving my warm, bare chest made him weak.  But what if we hadn't tried to give our daughter the chance to meet him while living?  I would regret that too. It's tempting to waste wisdom on the past.

Once Brandon got back, I told him Ivan was weak and I thought he was going to die soon.  Ivan's eyes had been shut but after Dad got there and everyone had left us alone in the room, he opened one eye and took a last peek at Mom and Dad.  I can still hear his last gasp for air in my mind's ear as he died in my arms with my husband by my side.  Each time I had imagined that moment, I had winced.  But the moment had come and gone peacefully, quietly.  He died two hours after he was born.  Two very precious hours!  I feel spoiled I got that time.  It is a privilege denied to many.  

Ivan and I were like subatomic particles and having collided and interacted for a nanosecond, it was over.  Poof!  Like a flash!  Our trajectories had crossed and we would have to wait a really long time to be together again.

Every motherly instinct was insulted as I walked out of that hospital without my baby.  My legs were collapsing as I made my way for the car, my husband literally holding me up.  (He has held me up in many ways.) We buried Ivan four days later. Spring was just arriving, which I found heartily appropriate and welcome.   Hope.  Resurrection.   

How does one find oneself vomited out upon dry land?  A bold clue is the fact Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  I believe my heartbreak was made bearable and healed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. You don't have to believe the same thing I do.  The principles that get you out of the fish's belly are legitimate, no matter what 'being redeemed' means to you. To escape the belly of hell, I had to submit my will to God's, dwell in an energy of gratitude, pay what I had vowed, and be merciful to obtain mercy.  Ivan taught me about God's grace.

I read once that problems come to you with gifts in their hands.  Weird, huh?  I thought so too.  Except it's true.  I love deeper.  My capacity for joy is greater.  My marriage is stronger.  The name Ivan means 'gracious gift from God'. 

I went down to the bottoms of the mountains but I am happy. The sweet will be sweet only because we have tasted the bitter.  It has to be this way.  The Lord prepared a great fish to swallow us up. 

Wherever you are, Ivan, I love you.  Our reunion is out there in space-time somewhere and its sweetness is reaching back from the future to get me.  I just know it.

Remember that the purpose of this series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. Alana will be reading your comments so you may comment directly to her. 

**Isn't this just beautiful? I read it three times and I could not stop the flow of tears. Alana is one of my sister's best friends and her story, Ivan's story, has been very close to my heart ever since I heard it. Thank you for sharing so much of this incredibly powerful experience with us, Alana, for it is an undeniable testament of love and eternity to me.

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