HAND of the Peninsula: Newsletter March 2017
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Dear friends,
While another holiday season has passed and a new year is underway, I reflect on thoughts of my daughter whose memory moves with me in time. Those memories seem static yet changing and I am always questioning ways in which I am honoring my daughter. It is with this thought in mind that I have taken on the role of HAND President. 
While it is no surprise that I have very big shoes to fill, I am overjoyed that Paige Hirsch has decided to stay on as a member of the board. There is no doubt that I will need to lean on Paige in the upcoming months. I am very thankful to have this opportunity. 
The last year was a big year for HAND of the Peninsula with the establishment of a North Bay Chapter in Marin. We also welcomed new Board members and many new volunteers. In addition, HAND secured a grant from Yahoo which is highlighted below.

We are very excited about our new Board members and the skills and passion they bring to our organization. The unwavering support and engagement from past and present Board members, our Advisory council, and volunteers continues to give us the ability to provide support to our community. We will continue to focus on outreach in order to support our goals of providing support to as many families as possible. 

Kai Martin
HAND President

Kick and Lean

By: Cassandra Nelson  |  Cassandra volunteers with her husband facilitating grief and subsequent pregnancy meetings at HAND of the Peninsula. She lives and works in the Bay Area as an artist at Exceptional 2 Infinity, an online art gallery, resource hub and think tank working to redefine neuro differences and intelligence through Positive Art (

At 40 weeks and 6 days, we thought we were home free.  That we had escaped the loss we had with our earlier pregnancies. Our sense of security was false as we tumbled into the deep and dark well of stillbirth. There had been an umbilical cord compression, lack of oxygen, and our daughter, Margaux, died inside of my womb. Officially called an Umbilical Cord Accident, UCA for short, there are many theories being researched to determine what causes them. Ideas include declining structural cord integrity issues, long cord length, mother’s sleep positioning, cord entanglement, hormone imbalance, and low blood pressure. The Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network reported in 2012 that UCAs are associated with 15% of stillbirths. According to the CDC in 2016:
 “Stillbirth effects 1% of all pregnancies, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States. This is the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).” 
Going from 41 weeks pregnant one day, to giving birth to my deceased child the next, was traumatic to my entire being, to say the least. Having sensory processing differences associated with autism and being a highly sensitive person, added much complexity to the multiple emotional and physical factors surrounding losing our baby. Experiencing sensations, thoughts and life in general, in a more intense fashion than typically wired individuals, the level of trauma and pain I felt demanded a wide array of intensive tools to help gently lead myself out of my perma state of what I now refer to as “crazy town” (constant “melt down” mode). Through my numbed and stunned body, I somehow kept my eye on the imaginary cord connecting me to this realm, as I dragged myself through each difficult decision, each bodily insult, that came my way. I let my intuition and connection to the spiritual help guide me through the barrage of questions. I prayed and made negotiations with G-d. We made a deal. We would take care of me. And let go of everything else. I opted for a c-section delivery (against hospital policy) and tranquilizers during the birth to dull the intensity. I remember the anesthesiologist asking me “how much do you want to remember?” before he administered the drugs. I answered that I wanted to remember, but to please “dull the sharpness”.
I met many compassionate human beings in the days I spent in the hospital. I emerged five days later, returning home, empty handed, foggy headed and stunned. Overcome with grief and emptiness, I found myself working through anxious moments by stimming (a protective response of repetitious, physical movement that releases anxiety, soothes and resets the brain) to help calm myself. Though I consciously limited my stimming in the past, I let myself go with all the hand flapping, rocking, and pacing that I needed. Continuing to give center stage to my intuition, it told me I needed to move my body more in order to calm myself and start to process the grief.
The first day I was cleared to do exercise, I found myself back in Bikram yoga. I lay crying at the end of the class in the final shavasana, meant to be a resting pose of total relaxation. I worked through the anger and rage I felt for my body, that had betrayed me. I searched for mantras as I practiced yoga each week.  One morning, I found one that felt so right that I carried it home with me and throughout my days. As I climbed the mountain of sorrow that seemed to grip me in those first few months, I repeated “Holding onto the memory of Margaux/ moving forward with my life”. That I could somehow hold this duality within myself seemed totally possible, the more I dedicated myself to movement through yoga. I didn’t have to completely let her go in order to move forward. I could retain her presence in every bit of life around me. I could feel her spirit, gently propelling me forward through the days and eventually years.
As time moved on, I started to identify this duality concept, and my mantra with the holding of a particular Bikram yoga pose, called Standing Bow Pose. It is known to be one of the most challenging of the poses in the Bikram yoga series. In this pose you kick one leg behind you while holding it in one hand and lean forward with the other hand outstretched in the opposite direction, counter balancing the kick. You end up holding yourself centered using these equal and opposite forces, pushing away from each other, yet working together. I began to notice more dualing opposites at work, in my life at that time. Each one having polar opposites, but beautiful interplay between poles and all along the spectrum in between, as they keep the world in balance. I realized that we don’t have to choose this way or that way, but invite diverse forces to work together in order to stay upright.
I have discovered that many of us hold lots of dualities inside of us, and while challenging, they help us develop grit and create connection with one another in order to stay in one piece. We are multi dimensional, fully spectral, tugging and turning, pushing and pulling, opposites always working full force to keep us going. When I meet someone who appears to be balanced and “have it all together” I no longer make any assumptions about how they arrived there. We are all trying to keep ourselves together, when we feel like coming undone. We work hard on the inside, struggling to balance all of the forces at work inside of us. The grief process is definitely one of the gnarly ones.
Some days, I really suck at doing Standing Bow pose. Especially if I am slipping on the self-care end of things. But many days I can stick it. And it feels so good to feel the push and pull as I lean and hold myself in perfect balance. I remember Margaux every time I do this pose, and how I emerged like a phoenix from the fiery disaster of loss. As the years go by, it has been my yoga practice, and lessons on self acceptance and compassion, that has helped me reconnect with my body. And forgive it for its failure. Over time, I have learned how to love and honor my body again, have a better understanding and relationship with it and what it needs to be balanced.
In yoga, healing through grief and in my life, I find myself kicking back (holding onto myself and standing up for my needs) and leaning forward (seeking compassion and moving forward into the future). Ultimately, holding myself upright in the now.

HAND's Annual Volunteer Training

On January 28th, seventeen volunteers attended HAND's annual Volunteer Training day to learn about HAND's history, structure, and many volunteer opportunities from Board members and meeting facilitators. Volunteers also practiced active listening situations, learned about how to facilitate meetings, and enjoyed homemade breakfast snacks and a yummy lunch. Thanks to everyone who came! 

Volunteers are crucial to HAND's ongoing success; without them, we couldn't offer support meetings and other crucial outreach. We need you! Please seriously consider volunteering with HAND when it's right for you: find out more at our volunteer page.  

HAND Receives Yahoo Grant 

In the fall of 2016, HAND was selected to receive a generous grant from the Yahoo Employee Foundation. The HAND Board is overseeing an application of this grant to help optimize HAND governance and operations, and sustain our mission far into the future. Stay tuned for an update toward the end of 2017!

Daughtry - Gone Too Soon (Official)
Daughtry - Gone Too Soon (Official)

New Valentine's Day

Published: Feb 14, 2017, by Amber Smiley, Still Mothers  |  A community and support resource for women who are living a childless life after the death of their only child(ren). We support all mothers who have faced loss due to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, infant death, as well as any other form of child loss.

February 16, 2013 was the day that we found out that Jasper was a boy. We were exactly 14 weeks along and that was the soonest that this high tech, 3D/4D ultrasound place would guarantee the gender on a scan. We had already booked the day, well in advance. We came prepared with names for a boy or a girl and we were excited and ready for either one. Even though the 14th was Valentine’s day, we had planned to recognized and celebrate, the three of us, over the weekend because the 14th fell on a Thursday. We had breakfast that morning at the Denny’s. Jasper loved grilled veggies and even though I felt much like barfing that day, I was excited to send some down the hatch for him that day.

Jasper was never shy on the ultrasounds and the tech had no problem identifying his gender right away. We were ecstatic. I remember looking over to Jasper’s dad who had a grin nearly too big for his face. “I knew it! I told you!” I said to him louder than I probably should have. I did have a feeling he was a boy right away. Instantly, all of the fantasies started. My husband had been such an amazing pregnant dad. He took such good care of me— of us, and I just knew all of the good things that were to come for our little family. I could not wait to see him with our son…

Fast-forward 4 years, and here we are in February of 2017. Wow. 2017. That means that happy moment in my life was already four whole years ago. Parenthood has not been at all what we had fantasized and talked about, of course not; Jasper died. We hadn’t planned for things to work out in the way that they did. One never does plan for this to turn out this way. Our relationship has had more strain and change over the last four years than in the entire almost 17 years we have together. I don’t have a normal, mushy, love story for you in this month of romance of love. I do have a real story though. There is pain, resentment and struggle. But, there is love too…

In the early days, the shock put both of us on autopilot. There was nothing to argue about because our mental function was just not present. We had no choice but to compliment each others’ behaviors. We took turns being the univalent while the other would be tough and take care of important things. We searched, often aimlessly to find something to fill the void that Jasper had left in his absence.  We were on each others’ team. We supported one another, no hygiene or house keeping required.

As time went on, we didn’t find that our feelings became easier to bare. Our situation was not better. We continued to bang our heads against our fertility problems. We spent money that we didn’t have trying to conceive again because we were so desperate for that little bit of happiness we felt when Jasper was there. The financial burden, the grief, the depression and sometimes resentment seemed to darken the space around us. We fought about silly things. The way I drive, the way he drives, the way neither of us wanted to clean up after ourselves are just a few of the heated topics that would always end in tears and left us feeling further and further apart.

Continue reading...

Balancing Fear and Faith in Rainbow Parenting

Published: Feb 15, 2017, by Alexis Marie Chute, PALS - Pregnancy After Loss Support  |  PALS is a community support resource for women experiencing the confusing and conflicting emotions of grief mixed with joy during the journey through pregnancy after loss. Alexis Marie Chute has her memoir Expecting Sunshine coming out this April, describing the journey of grief and healing week-by-week in her pregnancy after loss. 

Parenting after the loss of a child is amazing. You have a beautiful baby in your hands. This child breathes, blinks, coos, laughs and cries. Every day is a miracle and you count your blessings. At the same time, it can also be ripe with inner anxiety.

I remember giving birth to my first rainbow baby, Eden. His life brought me so much joy. I write about my pregnancy with him in my book, Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss. What my book does not go on to discuss is the fear that is also birthed with your rainbow. I think there was a part of me that hoped all stress would disappear once Eden was born healthy. That part of me did not realize that I would be entering a new stage altogether.

What I discovered is that parenting after loss is a balancing act between fear and faith.

Faith is believing in that which is yet unseen. Every day I hope and pray and have faith for the continued health and safety of my living children – but it’s not easy. Many days I succumb to the fear. Here are some ways I try to cope with parenting after loss:

Monitor thoughts. Being an artist and writer, I have an over active and visual imagination. Sometimes I will be getting ready for bed and want to compulsively check on my children as they sleep when I’ve just done it half an hour before. It’s easy for me to picture all kinds of scary scenarios. I try to immediately stop my train of thought and take a deep breath. I speak encouraging words to myself, like, “My kids are sleeping well. They are okay.” I have never told my husband this, but sometimes I don’t even feel at ease when he checks on the kids; I want to go in after him to see for myself. This leads me to my next point…

Continue reading...

Still Loved Documentary

Still Loved explores the complexity and reality for families surviving baby loss. Giving an unexpected voice to bereaved fathers, who speak candidly for the first time providing an additional perspective to that offered by mothers, grandparents and siblings. This is a brave, inclusive and ultimately life affirming film, for anyone that has ever, or will ever, lose someone they love. Read more on Still Loved website...

Still Loved official trailer

Give InKind: A Crowd-caring Site by Loss Parents

Give InKind, recently listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the top ten early stage female-founded startups of 2016, is a one-stop destination for individual in-kind giving with search capabilities based on need, situation, and location. The site was founded by Laura Malcolm and her husband James Kocsis, and is inspired by their daughter Layla, who was stillborn in 2013. 
Give InKind is a site by loss parents for loss parents, offering gifts of all kinds - from warm meals or just-cleaned house, to parenting books and Lego Sets. Users can browse a library of articles and guides for insight on specific ways to help
, or set up accounts to seamlessly coordinate care with carefully selected partners like Cleanify and Blue Apron.
The site started from baby loss, but goes far beyond to arm people with effective tools for support in any circumstance. 
Go to site...


Logan David Levin - to Brad and Michal Levin. Remembering Danielle Avery Levin. 
Willow Ann Kele - to Ali and Paul Kele. Remembering Chance Kele. 
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Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back

A collection of candid stories from grieving dads that were interviewed over a two year period. The book offers insight from fellow members of, in the haunting words of one dad, “this terrible, terrible club,” which consists of men who have experienced the death of a child. This book is a collection of survival stories by men who have survived the worst possible loss and lived to tell the tale.  More about the book...
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