Category Archives: Cubby LaHood

Angels in our Midst

Healing Companion400x800CaptionThis essay first appeared as a guest blog post for SpiritualLiving.com in August 2016.

http://www.spiritualliving.com/#!Angels-in-our-Midst/cmf6/579679c00cf2be2e0b931f15

Angels. We often use this word to describe babies, and I have heard people say that the dead have become angels. Are all babies angels? Does every soul earn wings when she dies? My newborn son who had colic and couldn’t nurse did not seem angelic, though he was, and still is, sweet. An alcoholic did not seem to transcend all that he was while living on Earth after death. Yet those who mourned him extolled his virtues, forgetting the empty bottle, the raised hand.

When I was pregnant with my second child, the routine ultrasound revealed several anomalies. My unborn daughter, Mary Rose, was diagnosed with trisomy 18. She would most likely be born still or live for a short while, though there are about 200 children and adults living with this illness in the United States. People began to call Mary Rose an angel baby. I wasn’t so sure. My friend, the artist Sindy Strosahl, painted Mary Rose behind my pregnant body as an angel before she was born in the painting “Healing Companion.” When my daughter was born in a pool beneath the painting, we noticed that she looked like the angel. She died in my arms an hour later.

One night my three-year-old asked me if Mary Rose is an angel. What do you think? I replied. I think that she is an angel with big wings. I feel her here, he said touching his heart center with his little boy hand. Mommy, does everyone who dies become an angel? he asked. I don’t think so, I said. My sister, Mary Rose, is an angel, he repeated. He knows of many ancestors on the other side of the veil: my two grandfathers, his paternal grandmother, my dear aunt. Yet, he only called Mary Rose an angel until recently.

I was speaking to my friend, Mary Frances last week. Her mother, Cubby, was my mentor during my pregnancy, and died in September. My son, now four, said, Cubby is an angel too. Then he said, But Heather and Holly are even biiiigggger angels. Heather and Holly are the daughters of my friend Terry who died of cystic fibrosis at 12 and 22 years of age. Does my son feel the angelic presence of these beings? Can he feel their work answering prayers and healing us and guiding us from the heavenly realms? When I was writing my book about Mary Rose I felt her on my right shoulder and Cubby on my left shoulder. They were helping me to gather the courage to finish laboring my book about my pregnancy.

I understand that newborn babies have a sweet, holy energy. They emanate unconditional love, as they come directly from the Creator’s hands. I also know that souls can be healed after death, that vices and challenges of spirit can be transcended as the soul continues to evolve. I can’t quantify the difference between a guardian angel and Mary Rose, but I know that they are both helping spirits from the angelic realms.

Angels are in our midst. We can channel their light into our lives and onto this great planet. Light shimmers and illuminates the darkness. It is far reaching. When we are in the presence of angels, such as Mary Rose, who was born and died on August 8, 2014, we are healed. We miss our loved ones and are broken open in our grief to love again and again.

I will continue to ask Mary Rose and Cubby for help. I will honor Heather and Holly in my prayers and in my heart. And I hope to be able to reach out my hand and offer love in the spirit of the angels to others who are grieving. Let’s do this together, with the angels’ help.

Book Launch: Why Did I Write This Book?

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Book Launch: Why a Book about Mary Rose?

Books about grief, pregnancy and infant loss have already been written. Yet when I was a pregnant woman walking around in a daze of grief after a prenatal diagnosis of trisomy 18, I did not find comfort in books, the place where I have always found comfort. Other than Nancy Mayer-Whittington’s For the Love of Angela, no book was raw or honest enough. In my state of pregnancy-awaiting-death, I wanted truth. I wanted to know how I could survive carrying life and death inside me. I wanted someone to explain the madness of grief that lasted far longer than Mary Rose’s brief life. I wanted to know that my unborn baby wouldn’t suffer.

In my pregnancy I came up against people’s judgements and beliefs about pregnancies with life-limiting diagnoses and life support for newborns. I fought the system to birth my daughter at home and give her a quiet peaceful life. I prepared her body for burial on my own bed where we held her, where she died. In the aftermath of my grief, I came face to face with our culture’s ignorant ways in treating the bereaved. Many kind people comforted us, but once I left my house cocoon and reentered life, I felt silenced and judged for grieving. Some people think that I am angry, but I am not angry. I am writing to speak my truth. Grief can take a lifetime to process. Grief is also infused with joy, as we live again.

To get to that joy, we first need tender love, a way to process our grief (I chose art), and the truth that life and death are inextricably linked. They always were. They always will be. Babies sometimes die. Women sometimes miscarry. I write Mary Rose into a book and send her out into the world to comfort women facing pregnancy and infant loss. I write to support communities – real communities – that walk together through the joys and grief that comprise human experience. Mary Rose’s book is as raw as a pregnant mother buying a casket and planning a funeral. It is as real as breath and love.

Today White Flowers Press launches Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death. The numbers are staggering. One in four women miscarry. One million babies die in this country before their first birthday. We all know women who have had their pregnancy losses, but most of us continue to ignore them because they are uncomfortable. This book addresses the social awkwardness that we feel around death and grief. It addresses the grieving mother, but also the family and friends that surround her not knowing what to say.

Every page of this book was watered with my tears; I kept writing anyway. I did not walk my pregnancy alone, and I do not want anyone else to be alone in that sacred space. I had my mentor Cubby, my parents, my sister, my closest friends. A therapist. A few midwives. A homeopath and bereavement doula. A son. A husband. A priest and his wife. A shaman. And the blessed nuns who pray in their little rooms for this broken world. Not every woman has a midwife to accompany her to the scariest of doctors’ appointments. How long can my baby live? What do I do next? And so I write for my readers.

In her memoir The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch ends her book with these words:

Listen I can see you. If you are like me. You do not deserve most of what has happened or will. But there is something I can offer you. Whoever you are. Out there. As lonely as it gets, you are not alone. There is another kind of love . . . . This book? It’s for you. It’s water I made a path through . . . . Come in . . .

Yuknavitch is talking about art. The art of words and books and many media. I agree that art is a gift, but the gift is also truth and an open loving heart that loves our vulnerable babies who are miscarried, born still or die soon after birth.

After my pregnancy I did research and found out the most important thing. If Mary Rose had lived, she would not have suffered. Why didn’t my doctors tell me that? I was so anxious in that unknowing. I intend for this book to clear up the blur of getting a life-limiting diagnosis during pregnancy, for it to be a companion as we walk through the fog of grief. You are not alone. Many women have gone before you, walking this path, since the beginning of our myths and stories. And those babies who were miscarried, born still or alive, who lived a minute or a day, their souls are perfect and the stories of their lives will heal our own grieving souls.

Today on the launch of Mary Rose’s book please share this blog post, if our work resonates with you.

I am grateful for your help and support.

To purchase Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Infant Death please click on this link:

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The Rosa Mystica: A Few Words about Cubby and from Cubby on the Four-Month Anniversary of her Death

Cubby Rosa MysticaI have written about Cubby LaHood, my mentor from Isaiah’s Promise, a few times. Today I want to hold the space to remember her in her own words. I am so blessed to be one of her last moms that she mentored through a pregnancy with a fatal “diagnosis” earth-side. I’m sure that she is helping many from the heavenly realms. Following is a brief excerpt from a longer chapter in my forthcoming book.

Cubby’s son Francis Edward died after birth of a kidney disorder. As a mentor, she offered me guidance based on her own experience after dedicating decades of her life in service to others. Many people offer the platitude “I know what you’re going through” with no such knowledge at all. Cubby did know. She had walked through the difficulties and knew how we felt. Her words reverberate still with incredible love and kindness. She wrote me many e-mails from the time that she offered support through Isaiah’s Promise until her death.

E-mailing Cubby was so good for me because I would weep and write when I could not sleep. I couldn’t speak on the phone because I would cry and couldn’t talk. I often told her about my concerns with the pregnancy. In May I write to Cubby about how hard it is to be in my pregnant body during the pregnancy. I tell her about my anxiety and worries for my unborn daughter. She responds

May 26, 2014

Yes, the suffering is what we all worry about so much. Its like a catch 22, we want them here with us, but we also want God to take them. You must not feel guilty, you have carried her because you love her – in life we all suffer in some way, even a healthy child suffers along the way. It is just that Mary Rose will have all the joy, love, and suffering, in a short period of life….With all the babies I have helped deliver – I have not seen suffering. It has always been very, very peaceful, like falling asleep. Even with Francis, it was slow and peaceful and I was not afraid. We held him always. You won’t need any equipment because you will not be putting her down.!!

Mary Rose deserves dignity…she will always live in your heart. She will give you strength.

I confide my feelings to her many times between May, when we began to correspond, and Mary Rose’s birth and death on August 8, 2014. She responds again

May 31, 2014

Oh My Friend – I know how hard it is…I would stare out the window at our swing set and weep, knowing my son would never play there…However, the closer I got to delivery, the more I became calm because I wanted to MEET him after all those months…I wanted to hold him and love him even if that was all we could do…I was HIS mother and I would cherish him every second. All of my fear and doubts would ebb and flow, but on delivery day I was only ready for love. I really prayed hard for strength. God gave me this baby son – if only for a few minutes. And I was going to love him…

June 18, 2014

YOU are stronger then YOU think – right now it is all the unknowns that make life so tedious – After birth, things will fall into place – even though you sense that Mary Rose’s time will be short – you must begin to look forward to meeting her – whatever the outcome. Love and letting go will be a part of it – but nothing is more important then love…

In the meantime – we will keep praying for you, especially for strength – and remember LOOK forward to meeting her – God has given you a great gift.

When I was still pregnant with Mary Rose she told me about the Rosa Mystica. It was June and Cubby was sick, but I did not know that she was sick yet. She didn’t tell me that she had stage 4 cancer until the fall. Cubby did not want to burden her mothers with her problems. I am taking care of the Rosa Mystica she told me. I googled Rosa Mystica and found out about more miracles of Our Lady, learned that the rose is her flower. Mary Rose. I didn’t know the significance of the name that entered my heart when I was pregnant. I believe that Cubby had the statue in her home, that there was to be a prayer service that night. I will pray for you and Mary Rose she told me.

And she still does.

 

Photo credit: Mary Frances LaHood. Cubby seated with her friend Kathy Schaef near the Rosa Mystica.

The Memory Box

IMG_0200[2]“Make a pretty box,” Cubby writes in her e-mail, “or buy one. Put Mary Rose’s things in there to remember her.” It is August 2014. I am in a fog but I stop at the store, Tuesday Morning. They have different boxes with prints but nothing seems quite right to hold Mary Rose’s few belongings. There is a large box with roses but it also looks like a travel case to Paris. Where did my daughter get to go?

A few months later I find a wooden box at Michaels as well as stickers welcoming a baby girl. I pause at the stickers. My baby is dead, I don’t get stickers and a double stroller but then I remember how much we wanted her and welcomed her, waited for her and longed for her. I buy the stickers with the box, as well as some decorative flowers and butterflies.

IMG_0798[1]The stack of sympathy cards is daunting. I had been thinking of making a collage, but had been hesitating. The pile continues to bring up emotions. It is both a reminder that some people cared enough to pause and reach out to us, while others had not acknowledged my daughter’s life and death at all. The beautiful cards were from people holding me up in their net of love when I could not find my footing. They were important so I spread them out, save a few and cut out images from the rest to decorate the box.

IMG_0190[1]I paint the box white and begin to glue images of flowers and butterflies and sweet phrases. These include reassurance, everlasting love, I will never be the same. I cut Mary Rose’s name out of two cards that Ann and Julie sent me. I use a glue gun and burn my fingers through the fabric of some flowers. I work into the early morning hours wanting to finish this and take Mary Rose’s few possessions out from the drawer I had prepared in my dresser while I was still pregnant. I had clutched each item weeping during my nesting period wondering if my baby would live long enough to wear anything at all. She did not.

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My birth team painted premie undershirts when they gave me a Blessing Way. One of Anni’s friends, Jill Diana, who never met me painted a onesie with Mary Rose’s name on it. “She has an angel baby too,” Anni had said as she handed me gifts from an unmet sister.

IMG_0802[1]A dear friend, Lakshmi, whose son Siddha died of trisomy 18 painted a special onesie for Mary Rose. She started making these beautiful clothes to honor her holy son.

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Sindy sewed two diapers for Mary Rose. She was buried in one and I kept the other. I also kept the hat that came with her baptismal gown that my parents bought for my daughter. I wanted something to hold on to. It has the beautiful roses that decorated her burial gown. Sindy also gave us a flower for her hair. When Anni and I were preparing Mary Rose’s body for burial we put it on and took a few pictures.

IMG_0810[1]The blankets from Isaiah’s Promise are what we nestled our baby in, and they go in the box. I place a few cards on the bottom, then some comforting hearts my first doula, Raizy, sent me.   Next her few clothes, followed by her blankets, my flower crown from the Blessing Way and the baby pea in the pod that Anni brought before I labored. I also have a comb with a few stray hairs from Mary Rose’s head, the box my sister sent with a tiny cross for burial, my pink bracelet from the Blessing Way and the scroll from Edgar Cayce’s Center that I chose from a bowl when I was pregnant. It says For, every soul enters with a mission. We all have a mission to perform.

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The box still needs something. My last step is to make copies of cards that I had pulled from the Mother Mary Oracle deck by Alana Fairchild and Shiloh Sophia during my pregnancy. I glue them to the top of the box. Number 11. Our Lady of Manifest Miracles, Number 12. Our Lady of Peaceful Change and Number 29. Our Lady of Starting Over.

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The box sits on the floor of my bedroom not far from “Healing Companion.” I don’t know if making a box will help other mothers, but I think that even for babies miscarried early, we can name them as our own and make a little tribute to their lives. Perhaps there is a blanket or rattle that you purchased for the exciting day that you would meet your child. The blanket still means something, even if the child has moved on from this life so very quickly.

In her book Naming the Child: Hope-filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, Jenny Schoedel writes “While the world we live in views tears as a sign of weakness and so often strives to avoid them…tears have long been associated with intimacy with God, with wholeness, with a courageous and life-giving openness to the spiritual world.” Those who mourn are tearful; we express our emotions and honor our loved ones on the other side, as well as our own motherhood and path of grief. This ground is holy and healing. To move forward I will stay here a little longer longing for the baby that once was in my arms, remembering her few things and the life that was, the Life that is…

Isaiah’s Promise

BabyinhandsFor the five months of pregnancy that I knew my unborn baby would die I was unable to sleep at night. I opened a new Google page and put in the words “trisomy 18.” I tried different combinations of “infant death,” “genetic defects,” “pregnancy without a baby” and I kept coming up empty. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but perhaps I wanted a literary essay grappling with the reality of a pregnancy that would end in death. Perhaps I was looking for some discussion of shamanism or another spirituality to give me some understand of my place on the planet. I remember those first days, sitting on the warming Earth with my hands on the ground. My son was toddling around the yard and I heard the words “Not all beings live long” in my heart center. I was in shock and I was searching for some support about living in the reality of my situation.

After reading through the medical information about trisomy 18, I found some writings that were very Protestant and difficult for me. I read a book by a Christian woman who could not believe that her baby died when she had asked Jesus for a miracle. There were a few blog posts and articles that said that if you have faith in Jesus, then you demand your miracle and you fight the diagnosis. I was perplexed. I did not grow up in a Christian faith that makes demands on God, though perhaps we have all done this at some point. I understood the Orthodox Faith to be the faith of Mary, the Mother of God, who said “Be it done to me according to Thy will.” The faith of St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Xenia, of St. Mary of Egypt, fool for Christ, St. Anthimos of Chios and St. Nectarios, the humble bishop of Aegina. Again and again our saints and teachers tell us we have to submit to the reality of our lives, to God’s will, fate or karma. Whatever language we use, we are walking the path of life and challenges appear out of nowhere. Our American culture does not offer much support for those of us going through life-threatening and grief-filled situations. I could not change Mary Rose’s “diagnosis” but I could honor her life and her death.

Several weeks after finding out about my unborn child’s condition I found the book For the Love of Angela by Nancy Mayer-Whittington. I read it at night when I could not sleep. I was so relieved to have found a book that resonated with my situation. Mayer-Whittington, who is Catholic, had a few miscarriages between her eldest daughter and her pregnancy with Angela, who died of trisomy 18 shortly after birth. The book had short chapters which were perfect for someone in my state of mind. Mayer-Whittington writes of her acceptance of her daughter’s condition, her path and grief, and her work to use her circumstances for some good. In one of the poignant moments in her book she writes about hearing a song on the radio that had been played at her wedding and embracing her pregnant body to dance with her unborn child. Meyer-Whittington knew that she would not have the chance to sway and dance with her child in her arms so she enjoyed this precious moment with Angela. I cried and finished the book quickly. Then I wrote an email to Nancy.

I read in the book that she and another woman whose baby had died, Cubby LaHood, founded a non-profit organization to support parents who choose to continue pregnancies after a fatal or life-threatening diagnosis. In my grief and shock it didn’t occur to me that I could ask for help from Isaiah’s Promise. I wrote to thank the writer for her book and to let her know how much she was comforting me. Within a few days I had an email from Cubby, who mentored me throughout the pregnancy and who remains a dear friend. Cubby asked for my address and within two days I had beautiful gifts coming to my door. Isaiah’s Promise sent presents for my unborn baby when most people would not consider such a thing. Their volunteers made beautiful blankets, including a pink and white blanket with Mary Rose’s name stitched on it, a baptismal gown and tiny booties for a premature baby, a baptismal kit, the book Letters to John Paul: A Mother Discovers God’s Love in her Suffering Child by Elena Kilner, a prayer shawl, and other thoughtful and touching gifts that surrounded our few moments with Mary Rose. Cubby, whose newborn son, Francis, died many years ago, has lived her life in service to others. I did not know that she was battling cancer as she wrote to me. She didn’t want to add any stress to our difficult pregnancies by telling us of her own struggles.

Isaiah’s Promise cites the scripture from Isaiah 49:15 “See, I will not forget you. I have carved you on the palm of my hand.” They have a beautiful documentary on their website interviewing a few of their families. They recently published an Isaiah’s Promise Tribute Book honoring a few of the babies in their 25-year history. I am so honored that Mary Rose is featured in those holy pages among so many other intercessors.

Isaiah’s Promise might be an anomaly in that most of us deny and hide from the reality of babies with genetic defects and their subsequent deaths. However, we can all become more sensitive to those with illnesses and fragilities, not just our babies who are challenged from the womb, but our elderly and our bereaved. Nancy and Cubby met decades ago and decided that together they would support others going through the challenges of similar pregnancies. Instead of hiding from the presence of other children who would no doubt remind them of their own deceased babies, they stepped forward and embraced dozens of children who were deformed, defected, and perfectly beautiful. I count Nancy and Cubby as my life teachers. I too am writing to comfort even a handful of people. Instead of putting Mary Rose behind me, as some would want me to do, I am taking her with me on my path, and I will pause along the way to offer love and comfort to the mothers of our Graces and our Ryders. There is no greater love than this… Loving our children unconditionally is easy when we have a community to uphold us in prayer, love and action.