Going Home.


The last time I went to visit your grave was two years ago. That Michigan summer was cool and rainy, the evening overcast and humid. I drove alone to the cemetery with a potted plant to place beside your headstone. But when I got out of the car I was greeted by a thick cloud of mosquitoes. Even through my jacket and leggings I could feel their stings. Frustrated, I turned around and dashed back into the car. I stared at the plot from my window for a few minutes before I turned the key in the ignition and drove away slowly.

Dad got married that summer. Jacob got married later that fall. We went home at Christmas but I didn’t come back to your graveside then either. It was a long time before I went home again. I said it was because we were trying to save money, and because we had too many other obligations. It’s not untrue, it’s just not the only truth.

The truth is you can never go home again.


It’s a breezy morning in April when I finally come back. The Monday after Easter. It’s my first trip home in a long time. We don’t stay in the house where I grew up. We don’t have the same big family gathering for holidays anymore. There are different places and new people and a whole life that we never imagined living when you left us, most of it good but all of it bittersweet.

I plant a tulip beside you.

The tears I thought weren’t there are on my cheeks suddenly, as if they never left me.

I am not fine.

I am fine.

The thing I thought would eat me alive has not, but I feel every tiny sting.

I come to you a version of myself that I’m not sure either of us recognize, but I’m all me just the same.

Hi, Mom. I missed you.

Skip the Greeting Card, Call Your Senators.

This weekend is Mother’s Day. And other than the fact that my mom died five years ago so this holiday is already hard, there is this other thing I’ve been struggling with in the last few years, and I’m sharing about it now because it’s weighing really heavily on my mind this week.

Matt and I want to start a family someday soon, but we don’t have the financial stability or the adequate insurance and benefits to make this possible. People who love me say all the time, “honey, people have babies with no money all the time” or “if you’re waiting until you have all your ducks in a row, you’ll never have kids” or something similar. It’s not that what they’re saying is untrue or ill-intended; I know these people love and care about me and they want me to stop worrying so much. It’s just that the sentiment is really naive. I don’t know, maybe we haven’t been clear enough about just how much financial stress we continue to endure.

But it seems like people assume that money, insurance, and healthy pregnancies are a given for everyone. They’re not.

I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, and I heard this report about the rising statistics of maternal deaths in the United States. Among several heartbreaking stories, one man describes watching his wife, 9-months pregnant, die suddenly in their own home due to an undetected heart condition. I was crying by the end of it.

I mean, read this:

“The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society’s development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling; in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.” But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60 percent of such deaths are preventable.”

And now think about this: the version of the American Health Care Act that the House of Representatives passed last Thursday would eliminate essential health benefits. This means that states can apply for a waiver to opt out of most of the regulations and consumer protections that were included in the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies in those states wouldn’t have to cover maternity care if they didn’t want to. Or they could make the premiums for maternity care extremely high, higher than they are now.

So imagine this scenario:

I, a healthy young woman of child-bearing age, want to have kids, but:

1. we have $60K in student loans
2. we have no savings (see #1)
3. we have limited financial assets, and we rent our housing (see #1, #2)
4. we’ve only just started investing in life insurance and 401K’s
5. the AHCA gets passed, and suddenly maternity care is a luxury for the wealthy

If anything goes wrong, what do you think would happen to us? If my pregnancy wasn’t healthy, if I or the baby developed health complications, how would we be able to deal with this financially? If I don’t survive, what would happen to my husband, especially if he suddenly found himself a single father?

What would this scenario be like if we were talking about a woman who has even less of a safety net than me, she and her family are living in poverty, and because of the AHCA, she doesn’t even have access to reproductive care from places like Planned Parenthood?

This is the shit that keeps me awake at night. 

Here’s an idea: if you’re willing to contribute to someone’s GoFundMe when they suffer from preventable pregnancy complications, then you can deal with socialized healthcare. Because that’s basically what a functioning healthcare system is: crowd-sourced healthcare on a macro-level. We take care of each other, because we value human life. It doesn’t prevent death, but it dramatically decreases the likelihood that we’ll die of something stupidly preventable. But the reason some people can’t accept this is because socialized healthcare is available to everyone, not just the people whom they deem worthy because of their skin color, their economic class, their body type, their respectable lifestyle.

This weekend people all over this country will be celebrating their mothers, their wives and partners, their sisters and daughters and saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, we literally wouldn’t be here without you and we owe you everything.” Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington believe that men shouldn’t have to contribute to women’s prenatal care. They’re deliberately trying to create a healthcare bill that will make it harder for families to care for mothers and babies. And for some families, it will cost them their loved ones and their livelihoods.

If any of this matters to you, then please call your senators and tell them to reject the AHCA. Do it in honor of the mothers who gave you life. It’s better than a greeting card.


P.S. Read this beautiful post by D.L. Mayfield on her son’s second birthday, and then listen to her podcast interview about their traumatic birth story.

An Iris in Remembrance.


There’s a bed of purple irises in our backyard. A single blossom has unfurled, and it evokes warm memories of my mother, all those late spring days when she would weed the flower beds at the front of the house, and the irises seemed to multiply by hundreds every year, their heavy heads bowing in the May sun.

In many ways, I feel like I’m not in a place right now to be grateful for what happened to us. Time presses on, and the weight of meaning-making feels impossibly hard to bear.

And yet, these memories sprout up anyway. They both anchor and undo me, all at once. They are the leaves I grow and shed, over and over again, that feed the soul-soil of who I am. It’s an ongoing existence of death and rebirth. That’s what grief is to me – death and rebirth, death and rebirth. Some seasons are uglier and harder than others, and I’m sure I can never recover these winters. And some seasons I turn toward the sun, arms outstretched, like all those irises my mother planted, growing by the years.

So today, yes, I bow my head. Thank you, thank you.

Be Bold and Mighty Forces Will Come to Your Aid

How was your weekend, dear readers? My weekend was a flurry of travel and visits with family in my small Michigan hometown. I’m thankful that I live in Chicagoland where I can work and visit the wide-open arms of its sweeping skyline whenever I want, and that my rural roots are just across the lake. In 4.5 hours [I’m not speeding, I promise, Dad!] I’m able to make the trek home to say hello and spend time with my parents and two younger brothers.
250 miles seems so short when I compare it to being halfway across the world or when I think about how far-flung some of my other family has become. Yet, I sometimes wonder at how far one can get in less than a day’s time. We left on a sunny Friday morning, and before I knew it, it was Sunday afternoon and my grandmother and I were driving the curve back around Lake Michigan to Chicago where I found myself sitting at a friend’s bonfire eating brats and burgers as the sun slipped behind the trees. As with many Sunday nights after a weekend visit, How did I get here? was the singular thought floating around in my head as I crawl into bed.
I’ll be headed back this weekend just to spend time with my mom for Mother’s Day. As you go about your week, I encourage you to take a moment to give thanks for your mom, or any woman in your life that has nurtured you and encouraged your dreams. If she’s here with you, healthy or fighting for her life, be sure to give thanks for the time you have together. If she’s gone, my prayers are with you as you reflect on her legacy and wish that you could tell her thank you one more time. Write her a love letter, because you and I both know that the task of raising you, helping you grow, wasn’t always a picnic, but she put her brave face on and taught you how to live life in this world anyway…