My relationship with Spirit B and death has changed so much in this last year. A year ago, when my therapist told me that someday I may be grateful for what happened to our family, I thought she was insane and honestly a big part of me wanted to slap her across the face. However, on their birthday I woke up and went outside to meditate and say hello to Spirit B. When I came out of my meditation, I felt as if I was being held in a cocoon of love. “Thank you B” I said. Because even though I grieve for him and miss him everyday, I now see that I AM so grateful for all of his teachings and gifts that he has given us. No matter how hectic and crazy life gets, we now choose happiness and ease over everything else, because B has taught us that there is no time for stress and worry. When ever we start to get angry or frustrated with each other, it never last long, as one of us is always quick to remind the other of what we have and how ridiculous we are being. I like to imagine that when that happens, it is Spirit B gently tapping one of us on the shoulder saying “I’m here!”
On the eve of what we call Spirt B day, I wrote the following essay for a podcast that asked me to write a “short” on my experience of becoming a mother to both Max and Spirt B. Since it is many weeks and maybe months away from going live, and it will probably be a very different essay when the editors get done with it, so I thought I would share it here as well. Writing out my story from when they were still in my belly to now was challenging, cathartic and beautiful. Through out the process I looked through pictures we had taken of the whole family on our one day together and listened to my birthing playlist for the first time since having the boys. Through streaming tears and walking breaks, I finally finished my story.
For those of you who have been with us for the entire journey, thank you for holding our family in your hearts and for fully taking on our story of Spirit B. Your pictures and signs of him are real and fill our hearts with so much joy and love. It is the greatest gift we have ever been given. Thank you.
Forever, Forever until the end of time, you will be ours to love, to hold close and to learn from…
When I first heard that there were two growing inside me I was shocked, scared and ecstatic. As the news continued to sink in however, all of my fears melted away. “This is exactly perfect” I thought. One pregnancy, two babies. Double the fun, double the intensity. My husband, Jason, and I are no strangers to either of these things.
As professional adventure racers on Team BendRacing/YogaSlackers we trek, bike, and paddle through the wilderness for days, pushing from one ultra – length segment to the next. Most races are non-stop, and sleep is on the clock, so we are used to getting only 90 minutes of rest a night for days on end. In fact, the longer the race, the more epic the terrain, and the less sleep – the better we place.
Our “day job” sees us traveling around the world teaching slacklining and partner acrobatics – think Cirque de Soleil, just without the crazy costumes. Jason balances me on his hands and feet as I move through complicated inversions and improbable transitions. We both highline too, walking slacklines suspended over canyons.
Certainly starting a family was a balancing act we could manage. On top of that, my husband is a twin himself and was over the moon about raising two together. He called himself the twin master.
Going into my pregnancy, I was intrigued and ready for the changes that were about to take place, physically, emotionally and mentally. I knew that my body was about to change drastically and I was excited, scared and curious about all of it. What would I let go of first? How long would it take for me to “come back”? Would I get diastasis recti? I had no idea how being a mother was going to change the way I saw or reacted to the world. As I started to do more and more research on other mother athletes, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. All of them read too perfect. I wanted the truth. So I started my own blog. It would be raw, open and truthful. Selfishly, I wanted an account of my journey, to see my growth over time – to see what I held on to, and what I let go of. As an athlete I expected body image and performance challenges, I expected exhaustion and I expected attachment issues to my boys. But what I was not prepared for was the hardest thing imaginable.
Over all my pregnancy was amazing. I took the boys on all sorts of adventures. Down rivers at 5 months pregnant, on a European acrobatic teaching tour at 8 months pregnant, and on countless hikes and bike rides. I talked to them all of the time, telling them how much we loved them and all of the adventures we were going to go on. I loved how they felt inside me, wiggling around. B was always more quiet than A. We called him the chill one and A the wild one.
As the weeks and days came and went, we were getting more and more excited to meet our boys. At 37 weeks, I was feeling great. I was still skiing and walking everyday. At 38 weeks I was still feeling good, but my Dr. wanted me to start thinking about getting induced. I really wanted them to come naturally, so I started doing all of the things people say to get your baby to come out. Eating spicy foods, sex, pressure points, acupuncture- yet still, they were not budging . At 39 weeks I went in to get a full assessment test, during the test, B had flipped to go head down with his brother. I took that as a sign that they were ready to come out. So when the Dr. asked me to get induced, I said yes. we were ready. However, on Friday the 13th, when I went in, the nurses told me that all of the rooms were taken and that I could go home and wait if I wanted. I took that as a sign that we all were not ready. So, after hearing the boy’s heart beats and eating some lunch, we left the hospital. I had to sign a release form, but both the Dr and and the nurse did not seem to be to put off by me wanting to go home and wait another few days.
On Jan 16th we went in for a routine assessment test two days before I was scheduled for an induction. I had a feeling that the boys may be coming that day so I brought along my hospital bag just in case. After sitting down and getting hooked up to the machines, the nurse couldn’t find B’s heart beat. I said “oh, he is usually just tucked in behind his brother”. But then, she brought in a radiologist, and I looked at Jason. Jason got up and held my hand. “It’s ok babe, no need to worry.” After the radiologist couldn’t find it, they called in the Dr. All I heard her say was “I am so sorry”. I started screaming “NOOOOOOO” It felt like a horrible dream. I wanted so badly to wake up. “ This can’t be, this can’t be” I screamed, then I started hitting myself. Jason took my face in between his hands. His eyes were so close. “He was meant for greater things Chelsey. We have to be strong for A, he is still with us”
The Dr’s wanted me to get an immediate C- section. But we declined. I wanted to try and push them out on my own. I started the induction process, but 7 hours in I was still closed off tight. All I could think about was how It was all my fault. I felt like a murderer, I felt like B hated me, that my family would forever blame me for the death of my son. “I want to go back, Why didn’t I get them out sooner?! Why!??” I said over and over again. Jason sat me down. “A is still with us, be strong for A”. “Ok” I took a deep breath. “I will try”
Over the course of the next 7 hours, I started to breath, to open up, to think about A. I visualized B’s spirit giving strength to A. That B had turned head down so that he could say good bye to his brother. I held on to that thought so tight and tried to relax and open up. After 40 hours, I got to 7 cm but needed a nap. The Dr gave me an epidural and told me to sleep well.
Two hours later, I woke up to the same bad dream. Only there was more frightening news. A wasn’t tolerating the labor anymore and I needed to go in for a C- Section right then and there. At that moment, I surrendered. I was scared, but there was no more fight left in me. I was done and ready to meet my boys.
A tiny piece of me thought that maybe the Dr’s had made a mistake and that B was playing with all of us, that he was in there, alive and healthy. But he was not. 30 min after the Dr told me I was going in for a C-Section Magnus Maxwell and Spirit B were born. At first I held Magnus, he came out bucking his head and so strong. He put his hand on my face. He was so pink, so beautiful, and so vibrant. Then they gave me Spirit B. He was beautiful, peaceful and purple. I started to cry. Never in my life had I felt so much joy and so much sadness in the same moment. We got to hold both our boys together, we were together as a family for 24 hours. When our close friend took Spirit B away to get cremated, he promised me that no one else would touch him. He kept his promise and held him all the way to the very end, where he placed him in the fire.
On the day that we came home, we had a ceremony for Spirit B with our closest friends and family. We put some of Spirit B’s ashes in little vials and asked for them to spread Spirit B in the most beautiful places. Someday, we as a family will visit those places.
The following days and weeks were full of the deepest sorrow I have ever felt and the most intense feelings of happiness. There was never a moment where the happiness didn’t have a lining of sadness. In between holding Magnus close to me, struggling with depression, figuring out breast feeding and drinking everything in sight, I walked, I cross country skied and I cried. Every morning and evening I went on “cry walks”. No matter the weather, I put Magnus in my shirt, put my husbands oversized jacket on and went outside.
I looked for Spirit B every where on those walks. I saw him in the raven, in the hawk, in the butterflies and in the rainbows. I felt and heard him in the wind and in the rain drops. At times it felt like I was grasping, but then things started happening. I started to ask for him, and he would appear. And then I started shouting out to him. “I love you, I love you, I love you!!!!!!” and “I am sorry” and sometimes I would get angry and yell at him. “ WHY!!!!!!!”
Every morning I got up and meditated outside, in the mornings first light, I would hear a voice inside me say “it’s not your fault Mama”. At first I thought I was going crazy, that I was just imagining it and grasping at anything I could. But then after talking with my husband about it, he said “so what?” If it is what you believe and it makes you feel better, than that is the path to take.” He was right, the other option of blaming myself and being in a constant state of depression and despair was not working for any of us. I had to believe – for not only myself, but for my family.
And so, that is where we began our slow journey of healing.
At 3 months post-partum I did my first short adventure race since getting pregnant. Physically, I felt fine. Emotionally I was a wreck. But being outside with Spirit B felt like my only option that day. I cried most of the 6-hour race. And when it came time to climb to the highest point of Smith Rocks on our bikes, I felt like there was something pushing me up the hill. My legs felt weak and flat, but there was a power in them that I had never felt before. I was getting to the top of the peak no matter what. Once we got to the highest point, I dropped my bike, took out some of Spirit B’s ashes and blew him into the wind. At that same moment, the sun came out and two hawks started circling us. “i love you, I love you, I love” I said in between crying gasps. On the descent to the finish line, I felt a huge release go from my heart up to the creases in my mouth. I crossed the finish line crying tears of both joy and sorrow. We’d finished first, but I did not even register this till days later. Jason handed me a smiling Magnus, who was very excited and very hungry. I pulled down my jersey and started to feed him right then and there.
In the recent months, I have returned to more active training, competing and teaching. My motivation remains strong as ever, but it has shifted. Now at the start of a race or big training day, I am excited for my time with Spirit, knowing that I will see him and feel him more deeply than in my day to day life full of busyness and raising his wildly curious brother. And after a few days in the wilderness, Spirit gently reminds me that Magnus is waiting for me and that I should hurry home. It works somehow, and I emerge full of energy and love despite having a wrecked body.
Jason was educated as a physicist, and our scientists friends have questioned our continued communication with Spirit B – asking why we continue to pretend that he is in the wildlife and weather we observe. He responds simply by saying – “perception is everything”.
We choose to see him in every rainbow and hawk. We choose to look for him on every mountain top and in the reflection of every pool of water. This connection to him is our truth. It is the story we create simply because we truly believe that everyone of us has the ability and responsibility to write our own book in life. And why not make it a good one?
So we choose to perceive his death as beautiful and his story as a blessing that allows us to live in a space of love, sorrow, and potential that we never knew existed.