Team Elle, those shoulders

It was those dimples that first caught my eye.

A town by the bay south just shy of our Canadian border.

Coffee shops, book stores, the smell of the sea, it was a simpler time indeed.

His adventurous spirit led me to discover my own love of exploration.

The San Juan Islands, Vancouver BC, the glacier of Mt. Ruth, and the rivers that run into our Sea.

We found our own cabin and made our first home, he made me feel loved….

Studies took us apart for one long year, but we returned to each other, and returned to the island, where in front of our family and friends, we made one promise…

By then it was his heart that captured my soul.  His love, his kindness, his tenderness.

It was not too long before  2 made 3.  I watched as he learned.  And Life was good.

Elle joined 3 years later.  At first it was life as usual, until it wasn’t.  But he was always there, never left.  Always there.  Life was not simple anymore.

We struggled and struggled to find our new life.  Until one day, it was not so hard and we just kept on living.

It was during this time that his shoulders became the part of him I loved most.  Now I understood… God knew he would have much to carry in this world…

Those shoulders carried our daughter when she was not yet able, to the play ground, through the grocery store, on family adventures, up mountain sides and along the sea…

Those shoulder’s were one of God’s gifts to me…




Gwenythhhhh….. and CeCe

It is Friday aka Fri-Yah!  I want to send you into this summer weekend with a smile and a chuckle.  Tackled some heavy topics this week and feel the need to share a quick and funny story about my mom aka CeCe.

Anyone who has ever expected a baby can relate to the dilemma of what to name this soon-to-be child.  It is an important task, not one to be taken lightly.  You can really make or break a kid depending on what name you give him or her.  I am not a big country music fan, but love that song by Johnny Cash, A boy named Sue.  And the Hollywood types seem to take this task to a whole new level… you’ve got to wonder.

Amelia’s name came pretty naturally.  We were driving home from a visit to Spokane one summer day and we passed the time with thinking up of  names for her.  Amelia popped into my head and it never left my heart.  She was going to be Amelia.  No second guessing.  However Elisabeth was not named until we were on our way to the hospital for my labor induction.  We chose it because it was a beautiful and classic name, same genre as Amelia, and it almost met all of my mom’s “naming criteria”… not kidding.  The most important rule she stated to me is that if you have a 2 syllable last name like Northern then the first name must be either 1 or 3 or 4 syllables.  However my mom had a few other criteria that I did not know about until one day when I shared with her that we had been thinking about the name Gwyneth.  I had just tossed that name out there along with Sophia, Hillary and a few other classic names.  She was polite and just nodded her head…

A few days later I received a voice mail from her that I will never ever forget.  It went something like this… Shelley, I have been thinking about your choice of the name Gwyneth.  As you know, it does not follow the syllable rule, number one.  Annnndddd…. secondly, when I look in the mirror and say the name GWWWYNNETHHHHHH…. my face kind of contorts into this unappealing shape…. Plus I learned in my French class that all names that end in TH are usually of the peasant class in France.   Okkkayyyy, that’s all for now…. catch up with you later.

Stunned.  Just Stunned.  And hormonal.

I picked up the phone and called her.  She probably did not answer for a reason… she knew she had crossed the line, oh yes.  My reply went something like this… Mom, got your message… annnnnddd… I am sorry to hear you are not a fan of the name Gwyneth.  I happen to think it is a beautiful name.  And what kind of French class are you taking by the way ? No wonder you have not learned to speak the language after 3 years of weekly sessions.  So here’s the deal mom…..I hate to burst your bubble but we are not French !  We are American mutts.  Also,  just so you know, when I look in the mirror and say the words…MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS…. my face makes a beeeeauuutiifulll smile.  Love ya Mom.  Click.

My CeCe is one in a million.  A true character.  Generous, caring, particular, thoughtful, and a lover of magical touches….and she is mine… and I am her one and only teeny tiny.  Love you Mom.


Team Elle, a little girl with nothing wrong and she is all alone….



Searching for her remedy was my full time job for the first 3 years of Ellie’s life.  As a nurse-midwife, I have always gravitated toward combining the best of both worlds, meaning western medicine and alternative healing.  My approach has been no different with my daughter’s diagnosis.  If there was a way to miraculously encourage my daughter’s brain to catch up on the growth curve I was going to find it and if I could not find it, I was going to create it my self.

Every morning after dropping Amelia off at her Montessori preschool at the episcopal church on 57th, Elle and I would venture to therapy.  Most mornings were spent in traditional therapies such as the Spokane Guild School and Milestones Speech Therapy.  We spent countless hours just trying to encourage Elle to say words like “please” or “I want”.   People often say I am very patient, well I would like to do a shout out to the speech and occupational therapists of the world.  These people are serious GD warriors of patience and healing.  Hands down to you, especially Chanda Davis Neu.

As with anything in life, one size fits is not really a thing.  What works for one child is never a guarantee for the next.  I found this out the hard way.  We had heard through the “moms of kids with special needs club” grapevine of a place that was offering healing at the natal level.  They claimed they could take the wounded mind and body back into it’s embryonic state to encourage regrowth or new growth of neuropathways between the brain, the spinal cord and the extremities.  Dark rooms and cocoon like hammocks were some of their tools for restoring the human body to it’s intended state. We had been down the path of cranial sacral work, special diets, play therapy, you name it…   But this place was offering to just basically rewire Elle’s neurological pathways for only $350.00 bucks for the first few visits.  This is the point in which we should have known better.

Tim, Elle and I went to our initial visit, met with the director and listed to him claim that he strongly believed his healing center would cure my daughter.  He gave us an abbreviated description of their healing practices, a quick tour of the facility and we scheduled her first appointment for the following Monday morning.  Hopeful and naïve.  The following Monday after dropping Amelia at Montessori Elle and I made our way down the hill to the healing oasis.   I checked her in and we were led back to a private room with a few therapist.  I had an uneasy feeling because I really was not clear about what exactly they were going to be doing with my luminous blue eyed baby girl that morning.   But the therapist reassured me that they would take good care of Elle and to come back in one hour.  So I left my little girl alone.

I managed to make it to the Starbucks drive through before I broke down… again.  It probably was not helping matters either that I was obsessed with Nora Jones’s newest album at the time, Come Away With Me.  Her music has a way of going deep as I am sure you all can relate.  Just as I was making my way back to the parking lot to wait for Elle, the 2nd song titled Seven Years began to play.  I had never truly listened to the words before, mostly just infatuated with her melodies, until this moment.

Spinning, laughing, dancing to
Her favorite song
A little girl with nothing wrong and
She Is all alone
Eyes wide open
Always hoping for the sun
And she’ll sing her song to anyone
That comes along
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Crooked little smile on her face
Tells a tale of grace
That’s all her own


Thoughts began flooding my mind and making direct connections to my heart.  How could I have left this little girl, this little girl with nothing “wrong” … I am the one there is something wrong with … for handing my daughter over to complete strangers in a place I have no fucking idea what they are doing to her.  Wiping the tears off of my cheek, I shut my car door firmly and walked into the waiting room and asked to have my daughter back right then.  “Now ?  She just has 15 minutes left of her service are you sure…” the receptionist asked.  “Yes, I really am not comfortable with this.”  She led me to the back room and they brought Elle back to my arms.  I could tell she had been crying by her splotchy cheeks and wet lashes. She was in her cotton onesie and diaper and had massage oil all over her body.  I dressed her quickly, through my bag over my shoulder and exited the building, never to return.

The next morning I received a phone call from the medical director.  “I just want to follow up with you and see if everything is ok ? ” he said.  And then he went on to ask how Elle was doing this morning which I thought was odd.  “She is fine.” I said.  “Why do you ask ?”.  He went on to tell me that they did have a little incident yesterday that was just brought to his attention by one of his therapists.  “During your daughter’s therapy yesterday, one of the assistance dropped her and she fell off the table and on to the floor.  We are really sorry this happened.”

I hung up.  I did not even respond to his confession.  Fuck You. And Fuck Me for abandoning my baby girl.  Never Again.

We skipped therapies all together for a few weeks after that.  I stopped signing her up for non evidenced based medicine as well.  I usually like to avoid mainstream but from here on out I was all in for standard therapies when it comes to Elle.  Safe and predictable.

I am not really sure how to wrap this one up.  I have to get ready for work and Elle wants my attention right now.  But if you ever hear seven years by Nora Jones, I hope you will think of Elle and I, and what that song has meant to me.

Spinning, laughing, dancing to
Her favorite song
A little girl with nothing wrong
Is all alone
Eyes wide open
Always hoping for the sun
And she’ll sing her song to anyone
That comes along
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Crooked little smile on her face
Tells a tale of grace
That’s all her own
Fragile as a leaf in autumn
Just fallin’ to the ground
Without a sound
Spinning, laughing, dancing to her
Favorite song
Well, she’s a little girl with nothing wrong
And she’s all alone
A little girl with nothing wrong
And she’s all alone


She returned late last night with her dad from a 2 day orientation at the University of Washington where she will be attending school this September, September 8th to be exact.  Classes won’t begin until the 27th, but September 8th is the day that we drive her through our fields of Gold and over the Cascades to the city by the Sea.  I am trying to not really think too much about this day and just praying to the mother goddess that I will be able to handle this season with strength and joy.  It really is joyous.  How exciting for Amelia to begin her next main chapter of her life in Seattle… and how fitting, since this is the place where she began. Literally, she came into being in the house boat we called home and entered into her own existence the day after Thanksgiving in 1998 at Group Health Central on Capital Hill, the hill that overlooks the Puget Sound..  So much to be grateful for that year and every year since.

A few weeks before she was born Carolyn, my “other mother” and I went for a walk around Green Lake.  The trees were beginning to turn to gold and the air was crisp and refreshing after the humid summer heat.  Carolyn is my best friend’s momma.  She is a long and lean woman with olive toned skin, amazing cheek bones and has the soul of a gypsy.  I will never forget what she told me on our walk that morning.  In anticipation of the birth of my first baby she shared with me that from the moment a mother gives birth, she begins the process of letting go…  Cutting the cord, first steps, kindergarten, sleep overs, middle school, summer camp, a driver’s license, her first boy friend, and now college…  Breathe, in and out.  I am consciously watching my self let go of Amelia.  But I don’t know if I can… my heart aches, my throat feels funny….

Mostly it is her safety that bothers me.  Thoughts flash in my mind of scary possibilities and I just try to let them pass.  I have lectured her countless times about making safe choices at all times and she politely listens and says ” I know Mom”…. And somehow, my soul believes that if I remember to always tell her to drive safe before she leaves the house, that by doing so, she will indeed return home to me.  The other key aspect I struggle with is the fact that she is leaving me to go to a place where I often long to be, my first home.  A place where my mom and best friend live, a place I still have dreams about, a place near water.   I ruminate about feelings of jealousy and longing to be where she is and wonder if these feelings will intensify for me once she is gone.  How will this affect me, how will this affect my marriage, how am I going to handle this change of season of my life?  Tim knows this has been on my mind and he reassures me we will return to my homeland someday.  Hard shit.  My plan is to handle it with courage and grace, courage and grace, courage and… grace.

I am excited to see what she does with her life.  The name Amelia means the defender as well as industrious and striving…  Her names suits her well….  My Amelia is kind of a no nonsense kind of girl, thick skinned like her dad (most of the time) and slightly ambitious like her mother.  She is also incredibly loyal.  I worry about her heart when she and her first love go their separate ways at the end of this summer.  And so does she.  He is heading to college to play baseball in Vancouver, happy for him.  I care about him too.  In fact, the other day on my birthday, Caleb sent me a sweet text and thanked me for being like a second mom to him… Huh. Now I am someone else’s “other mother” like Carolyn has been for me.  LIFE.

Oh Amelia, know that you are never alone.  Know that you have many souls walking along side you at all times helping to guide you and keep you safe.  Know that you will make mistakes and that your job is to pick yourself up, to learn, and to keep moving forward.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and know that you are capable of becoming whatever it is you want to be.  Always believe in yourself.  You are loved, you are wanted, you are forever mine.



Team Elle, this face…

Excited to be learning more about WordPress.  I have spent the morning down loading old photos from Shutterfly and uploading them onto WordPress.  Aren’t I smart!  And today at 11am, I am meeting with a woman named Millie, who was referred to me by a dear friend, to work on creating a personalized format for my blog posts, so please stay tuned.  I love writing and love being able to release my story to those that are open to coming along with me.

I just want to say too, I know my writings are not always easy to read… I know the topics are heavy and feel dark a lot of the time.  I appreciate your willingness to go deep with me.  I promise I won’t leave you at the bottom….  sometimes, it just takes me a while to swim back up to the surface for oxygen and sunshine.  We all have hardships in our lives but if you keep your eyes and heart open, the glitter and rainbows are always just around the corner.

Team Elle, the day we picked strawberries

June 2004, just a few months shy of Charlie’s due date, we decided to head up to Greenbluff to pick strawberries with Amelia and Elle.  We had quickly come to learn that Greenbluff was the place that locals took their families for pumpkins, Christmas trees, and seasonal fruits. A beautiful collection of small family owned farms tucked into the folds of the low lying hills Northeast of Spokane.  My belly was substantial by now and I had the typical third trimester fatigue, I was ready to be done.  Especially with the heat.  I had never been “this pregnant” before during the summer months, and definitely not use to the eastern Washington summers.

Our first home in Spokane was on Hamblen street.  Just across the street from the Presbyterian church and Amelia’s future elementary school.  It was a modest soft butter yellow 3 level home with white rock accents, fairly outdated but very practical… except we did have a pool.  As a west side girl, it was not normal to have a home with a pool, however in Spokane it seemed like a good portion of homes possessed a backyard oasis out of necessity – a refuge from the dry intense summer heat.  Air conditioning is also a nonnegotiable in Spokane.  Unfortunately, on this day, our air conditioning had stopped working and we tried old school style to keep our home cool.  Strategically opening windows and sliders to allow the flow of cool air to ameliorate the stifling heat.

Amelia was very excited to explore the strawberry farms.  She was my little helper, finding water bottles and sunscreen to add to our back pack in preparation for our family outing.  Tim was scanning the yellow pages (yes the yellow pages) for the names of all the different berry farms and their addresses.  A normal day.  A normal day until I realized Elle was not where I had left her sitting to play with her toys.  “Where’s Ellie?” I asked Tim, “Do you have her?”.  “No, I thought you did” Tim answered.  “Shit.”  my heart started racing as I retraced my steps, laser scanning the up stairs, then the front room, and then down to our walk out basement.  By this time I was running through the house while the adrenaline pulsated through my heavy pregnant body.  Just as my legs floated me down the steps I saw that we had left the sliding glass door open to keep our home cool.  She can’t be outside, she is not that able yet to make it that far I thought.  I was dead wrong.  As I ran up a few steps onto the pool deck, I hit my shin on the cement stairs and fell forward.  Reflexes took over as I slammed into the concrete hands first to protect my pregnant belly.  Before I knew it, I was in the aqua waters, chest deep snatching Ellie away from the grips of death…  I do not know how long she had been in those waters, but she was still breathing and sputtering.  Shaken to my very core.

With her soaking wet breathing body in my arms, Tim, Amelia and I retreated into our home and locked the sliding glass door.  Tim sat stunned as I attempted to explain to Amelia what had just happened… but I did not need to.  She knew we had almost witnessed the drowning of her baby sister.

After we all settled down, regrouped and discussed new safety strategies, I called my mom to confess.  I can not remember how I phrased what had just happen, but I clearly remember her slowly asking…”It wasn’t Amelia was it?”  “No mom, Amelia’s a good swimmer, it was Ellie.” I replied quietly.  Although my mom had asked a fair question, in my mind her question really was more of a declaration of her love for her grand daughter Amelia.  I don’t know if this is exactly what she was trying to convey but this is how I interpreted her sobering words.  I  was not angry at her for asking me that question.  If I am being completely honest with myself, that is how I felt too.  What if that had been Amelia?  Would I be more devastated to lose Amelia over Ellie ?  Does this mean I don’t love Ellie as much as I love Amelia ?   Can one love equally what is perfect and imperfect ?   I would be untruthful if I did not admit to having thoughts of how my life would be so much simpler without Elle.  If it had been just a few more minutes before we discovered she was missing, maybe I would have spared myself and my family from the years of pain, hardship and burdens of having a special needs child.  Hard to admit these thoughts but they were there in the darkest corners of my mind.  But here’s the thing, my higher self, the self that is aligned with the purest love of our universe knew better.  My higher self took over, alerted me that one of my babies was in serious trouble and brought me to her rescue.  My higher self knew that Elle was sent here for a purpose, she had a big mission here on planet earth and needed a hell of a lot more than just 2 years to accomplish what she had been sent here to do, heal and strengthen her mother and anyone else who may be in need of healing touches direct from God.

By the end of the summer, thanks to my mom, we installed a chain link fence complete with a locked gate to keep ALL of her sugar cookies safe from harm.  Over the years, I have thought back to this day and how our lives could have turned out much differently.  And I can say with total honesty, I am grateful to my higher self for alerting me that summer morning in June.  As difficult as the day to day life can be with Elle, I know I am also incredibly fortunate to have been given the special gifts that only a child with special needs can provide.  Gratitude for the simple things in life, patience, perspective, selflessness, and sweet uncomplicated love compliments of Elle.

As always, we carried on that summer day, and took our girls up to the farmlands to gather strawberries as if nothing extra ordinary had happened.  But in reality, I was well aware that my guardian angel was right there with me keeping watch.  Keeping Gods plan for our lives on track .  Grateful .




Team Elle, Blackbird

By our 3rd date, I knew I wanted to make babies some day with this blue eyed man.  I was only 21 at the time, just a neonate myself, but I knew he was going to play a special part in my life.  We followed all the rules, finished college, traveled, went on to graduate school in separate cities, but eventually found our way back to each other where we lived on my mother in law’s houseboat on the east side of Lake Union.  Pure Magic.  Love, water, Seattle during the mid 90s – a great time of life !   I patiently waited for 4 years before convincing Tim it was time to have our first.  Amelia.  A few years later came Elle, and then you all know the rest of that story … our mighty blessing Charlie showed up last.

Since about the age of 18 I have been captivated by birth.  Strange I know.  What 18 yo girl becomes obsessed with birth.  But for me it was not exactly just birth that intrigued me, but the role of the woman who guided at the birth, the midwife.  I remember when I shared with my mom that I wanted to become a midwife, she was annoyingly perplexed, and told me that that was something a 40 year old woman becomes, not and 18 yo.  Although she had a point, her dismissal of my calling felt harsh to my young soul.

As most of you know, I found my non-linear path to midwifery starting in my 20s, but this is not what I want to write about this morning.  More later.  This morning I want to write about Elle’s birth.

Elisabeth McChesney Northern was born at 9pm on November the 12th 2001.  A few short months after 9/11, a time no American will ever forget. She was nine days late, nine long days.  Possibly a sweet little clue she gave us that she would be doing “LIFE” on her own terms.  Amelia was right on time, typical first born daughter behavior.   Because I was past 41 weeks, my midwife swept my membranes during the prenatal visit and scheduled us for an induction later that afternoon.  It was an odd feeling to schedule a birth, it just felt unnatural… kind of like when middle aged couples schedule sex… not my style.  But I was ready to have her and so I agreed.

Her birth was quite swift.  After one tablet of cytotec, my contractions escalated into 5th gear.  Thankfully Monti had arrived just in the nick of time as my husband does not handle birth well.  Ironic, I know.   In fact, Tim almost missed Elle’s birth all together because he was experiencing similar contractions of his own, of his lower intestine… in the public bathroom.  Ohhhh Timmmy.

Monti led me into the warm water where I labored for another 20 minutes or so and then I felt an internal pop.  It is a strange sensation to feel your water break when you are already in the water.  That was all it took, Elle was barreling through full steam a head.  Monti pulled the emergency cord and the midwife ran in to check me.  I was not having it.  My reflexes took over and pushed the midwife’s arm away from my body.  Some how I made it out of the water and onto the bed.  Some how Tim miraculously returned from the bathroom, the nurse rushed in to assist, and I delivered Elle, with the help of my tribe.

“I did it!”  I remember crying out as I held Elle to my chest.  With Amelia, I had begged for an epidural during transition.  My weakness haunted me after ward because i had planned to to experience birth without anesthesia.  My second labor was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do it.  Thank god she came so quickly, otherwise I would have surrendered again. Unbearable.

There are a lot of moments during the birth of a baby that I cherish both as a mother and as a midwife.  The feeling of triumph, the warm coos and tears from the family as they lay eyes upon new life, and the sheer grit of the female spirit.  But as a mom, my most cherished memories of all three of my children’s births was the first night alone with my baby in the hospital after all the hubbub had settled down.  It is difficult to describe because I do not really know if there are words to accurately express this moment.  The closest word I can find is “primitive”.  There is nothing that compares to the experience of snuggling down with your baby, a kind nurse quietly attending, skin to skin, and with every sense of your body…. taking in your creation, God’s creation.  Her silky skin, her warm breath, her smell, her movements, and her tiny pink fingernails… all of it.  Soaking her in, locking her in for life.

As with each of my babies, I had created a play list for the upcoming birth, part of my plan for coping with labor.  Always planning….   My first night with Elle, I spent on the couch that was meant for the dad’s.  Tim had gone home to Dragon Fly Ranch, to be with Amelia and the birthing bed was meant for birthing not sleeping.  It was a dark stormy night in mid November, the wind was howling and I could hear the swaying of the barren maple trees outside of my birthing suite.  I started my playlist quietly as an attempt to drown out the hospital noises.  As I began to take in my newest baby girl, Blackbird sung by Sarah Mclachlan, began to play.  Do you know this song ?  Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.  Black bird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see, all your life you were only waiting for this moment to be free, blackbird fly into the light of the dark black night….     Chills, full body chills.  Elle was my baby black bird, but I just did not know it yet.  Or maybe, just maybe, I was Elle’s baby black bird… and God had sent her to help me fix my broken wings and learn to fly.  God does work in mysterious ways, wouldn’t you say?




Team Elle, Wide Open Spaces

It was as not an easy decision to move East.  For one, I grew up on the west side of the state, the side of the state where inhabitants hardly acknowledge there is anything worthwhile east of the Cascades except for possibly Chicago and New York.  Seriously.  Also Monti, my best friend since 6th grade, lived close by as well as my mom and her sisters, my grandmother Bonnie, and extended family.   These women have been my core group for as long as I can remember.  These are the women that birthdays were celebrated with, the women that gave me advice about college and boyfriends, the women that gathered every Fall to make Black Cake in my mom’s kitchen in preparation for the holidays.  These women may be a little cray-cray but they are still my tribe…  The roots run deep on the west side.

Since I was my mom’s only, her teeny tiny as she use to call me, when I weighed in at  5#11oz one early June morning,  it made this move eastward even more complicated and painful for both of us.  But in a way, I often have wondered if it was also a relief for her.  Out of necessity, my mom had created an orderly and compartmentalized life.   Her new husband never wanted children of his own and he made that known in the ways he interacted or did not interact with me.  She always did her best, the best that she knew how, to keep every thing together.  I followed her lead.   I learned to strive for perfection at all times, to remain quiet and to never rock the boat.

Just as with any situation, there is good and bad.  The good translated into a very nice home, nice cars, a lake cabin, gourmet dinners crafted by my mom every night, except Wednesday nights when we went out for Mexican food.  Otherwise our week night dinners were complete with place mats, folded cloth napkins, and music to accompany the regional cuisine (not kidding).  I also was the kid that got to go to 2 weeks of horse back riding camp, a 6 week summer ballet school at Pacific Northwest Ballet and the majority of my high school years at Annie Wright, an all girls Episcopalian boarding school situated on the cliffs above the Puget Sound south of Seattle.  A fairly privileged life by most people’s standards.   But what was missing, which sounds so cliché as a step child, is the feeling that I was wanted or that I belonged.  I knew my mom “wanted” me but I also knew her marriage made things complicated.

Years later, when my husband worked for my step dad, it became increasingly more difficult for both my mom and I to navigate our relationship.   As you can imagine my step dad held the gold, he ruled.  When you are a young and dependent on your parents to survive, this framework for living underneath someone else’s domain is acceptable, it is all you know.  But as life goes, as you enter adulthood, the task becomes to fly away from the nest and to build your own.  Tim and I were not living authentically.   We lived on the land that was gifted to us by my step dad, my husband worked for his company… we had to graciously break free.  I am sure every one was ready for us to do so including Tim and I;  however,  I would imagine for my mom, breaking free did not necessitate us moving all the way to Spokane.

She has displayed her displeasure in some pretty hilarious ways over the years.  For example, when she comes to visit us and meets new people (my Spokane friends) she will usually ask them how they ended up in Spokane ?  As if living in Spokane would never be a chosen destination.  She has honestly stated that people who chose to live in Spokane must be genetically “different”  because why would you migrate west and land just east of the cascade mountains, as most sophisticated people would feel genetically pulled toward the ocean, which the west side of the state clearly offers.  I am serious!  She also knowingly changes the names of our landmarks.  Comstock park is Compost and she calls Manito Park, Maniteee or Maneeetooo Park.  Initially her attitude contributed to my insecurities and made me question my decision to live here;  however I have learned to just smile and laugh when ever she comes up with a new nick name for one of our beloved destinations.  And to her own surprise, over time she has come to acknowledge and boast of the treasures of the Inland Northwest.  She loves the easy access of our airport, les jardins francais at Maniteeee Park,  our Episcopal Cathedral, the Rocket Market on 43rd for the organic produce and men in tight bike shorts, and Luna’s wine list and pizza.  However, she still despises our long winters as do I.

It was July 2003 that we launched.  My mom gave me a long hug good bye, we both tried not to cry.  I knew she did not want to let me and her sugar cookies out from underneath her wing… not yet, not ever.  And I did not really want to leave her, not yet, not ever.  But sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to, so that we can get to where we need to be.   Painful, so painful for me still as I write.  With my light blue Passat wagon loaded down with clothes and household goods as well as Amelia, Elle, Bubba our firsts family yellow lab, and June my Persian cat, we slowly rolled out of the driveway as we waved good bye to Dragon Fly Ranch.  My mom and Tim stayed behind to finish packing up our home.  Tim would be meeting up with us a few days later in Spokane.   As I turned the corner toward I-5, I turned on the radio… ironically, Dixie Chicks Wide Open Spaces was being broadcasted.  “Turn it up momma!”  Amelia shouted from the back.  I obliged.

At that time, in my mind, Spokane held the promise of unconditional and uncomplicated love which translated to a pack of cousins for Amelia and Elle, the hope of having sisters to share in the raising of Elle as I did not yet have the courage to go it alone, more sunshine than rain and long snowy white winters, and a sense of belonging to a big loving family.   For the first few years, our hopes were realized.  Tim’s family welcomed us in, we partook in several magical back yard BBQs with cousins splashing in the pool as well as gourmet holiday dinners at my sister-in-law’s home.  But as things go in life, circumstances shift, cousins grow older, and lives take different directions.  Our family has not been spared.  I would be lying if I did not admit that this has been painful;  especially since I am usually having an internal battle with my need to be with my mom and near the water.   And as I have written in previous blogs, I know I have high expectations of myself and those around me.  This is both my strength and my curse.  It is such a delicate dance when you are not blood related but still have a stake in the game.  I think mostly what I have learned over the years is that Tim’s challenges with his relationship with his family ( we all have them, no one is immune ) existed way before I arrived into the picture and it is not my place or my job to fix or compensate for HIStory.  Additionally, with the extra burdens we have faced in raising Elle, I know that I have not had any extra energy or room in my heart for complicated dynamics.  I am tapped out.

Ultimately we all just have to do the best that we can, assume that every one else is doing the best that they can, and take care of our own little family unit… nothing else really matters.  My grandma Bonnie has said to me on many occasions “Count your blessings and don’t borrow trouble Dear Girl ” .





Team Elle, Fields of Gold

The first several months, and I mean several, after Elle’s diagnosis, Tim and I were lost. We both were acutely aware of how the earth had shifted from beneath our feet and everything that we had dreamed about for our lives together was no longer going to be our reality.  I remember one summer day, in our attempts to hold onto the notion of what a “normal” family looks like, we took our two girls to a small summer festival north east of Seattle.  Face painting for Amelia, food stands, and music… just trying to be a normal family doing a normal activity surrounded by normal people with normal lives…  We were outsiders in disguise.  

We found a place under some trees, laid out our blanket, and sat down to listen to blue grass fiddles while Amelia snacked on cotton candy.  Tim lifted Elle out of the Kelty backpack and sat her down between us on our blanket.  I don’t remember all the specifics of this moment, but I do remember that at one point we were both observing Elle, how she was holding her body, tilting her head,  the fact that she had to wear glasses to correct her lazy eye.   It seemed to be one of those moments where the gravity of our situation set in for us both at the same moment in time.  We looked at each other, and we just finally knew at the deepest level our lives would never be the same again.

From the beginning, Tim has always been my rock, physically and emotionally.  If you know Tim, you know he is built like a line backer but has the softest of hearts.  His blue eyes and dimples stole my heart in the beginning but it was his mental out look on life, his love of adventure, and his emotional strength that has kept me by his side for over 24 years.  When we were first trying to make sense of what was happening with our 2nd born daughter, every book I read about having a special needs child warned us that our marriage would must likely suffer and that we had a less than stellar chance of staying together as one.  Apparently it was not enough to grieve over our daughter’s diagnosis but we needed to also prepare to sacrifice our marriage too… double blow.  I eventually just stopped reading all those books and have learned over the years that I already hold my own answers, my truth…

At the time, I was not really clear what or how my husband processed his feelings about his luminous blue eyed daughter.  Men can be difficult to read.  During that time he was working for my step dad’s company spending a few days most weeks in Portland drumming up business.  I was alone a lot or at least it felt that way.   Although we lived in a newly constructed custom home in the country, I longed to be in a cookie cutter suburb with other mothers and kids to surround and distract me from my pain.  I desperately needed other women to help me to learn how to be Elle’s mother.  I needed someone to share in this experience of being her mom as it felt too heavy for just one mother to carry.

It is strange how in the midst of grief it feels as if your life is frozen in time while everyone else in the world continues on without you enjoying vacations and family gatherings.  One summer evening while Tim was away in Portland, I decided to take Amelia and Elle to a field of sunflowers on the edge of the Skagit Valley.  As we drove out this long country road to our destination, my mom and step dad passed me by going the opposite direction.  I don’t believe they even noticed that they had just passed us.  But I do remember thinking they must be on their way home from dinner and how the fuck can they be out enjoying themselves when I am so alone and scared.  Perceptions are deceiving.  I had a lot of work to do, soul work.  The sunflower fields helped though…

In early Fall, when the Valley is at it’s most bountiful season and when the Cinderella pumpkins are ready for choosing,  Tim arrived home from one of his business trips in Portland.  “Shelley I have something I want you to listen to after we get the girls to bed tonight.”   he said.  A little while later after I had finished nursing Elle and Amelia read Go Dog Go to her daddy, Tim took my hand and led me to our den.  “I discovered this pretty amazing musician while driving home today and wanted you to hear it too..”  he said.  I settled down on the pull – out couch while he queued the music on our dial up internet.  It took a few minutes.  Her voice began to sing the melody of an old Sting song, Fields of Gold.  Angelic, haunting, and soothing all at the same time.  I looked over to Tim and his eyes were wet with tears, which immediately made me cry … again.  “Will you stay with me, will you be my love among the fields of barley, I swear in the days still left, we will walk in fields of gold….”  Her name is Eva Cassidy, he said.  Tim went on to tell me how Eva had fought a long battle with skin cancer and it was not until after she had passed away that her close friends released her music for the world to hear.  Eva’s rendition of Fields of Gold is second to none.  I learned that summer night that music was one way that my husband processes his emotions.

After we listened to a few more of  Eva’s melodies together,  we came to the decision that we needed to make a move to Spokane where Tim’s sisters lived with their husbands, kids, and his mother.  He described to me his memory of arriving to Colorado to be with his family after his grandfather had passed and that by being with his family  he was finally at peace and knew everything would be ok, in spite of the loss of a  man he adored.  I was also ready for a change.  Even though my mom and I were very close, I needed to find my own way for awhile, to find my own wings.  It was not an easy decision, but Tim and I both felt like we had arrived to a place with clarity and peace.

The Inland Northwest is surrounded by Fields of Gold.  Many years have passed since those early summer days among the fields of barley.  Tim and I have seen our children run as the sun goes down among the fields of gold.  I’ll always remember you, and how you were my rock, my love, when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley.  You can tell the sun in his jealous sky when we walked in fields of gold.  When we walked in fields of gold, when we walked in fields of gold…




Team Elle, Into the light

If you have lived in Spokane for more than two years, then you remember the wind storm a few weeks before Thanksgiving in 2015.  No one escaped the ominous grasp of mother nature that night.  I remember getting the text from my oldest that her high school was releasing the students a little early, so they could all arrive home before the storm hit our little city also known as the Inland Empire.  The message traveled fast and businesses and clinics were closing early, except for the one I worked at.

After I saw my last patient, I swiftly gathered my things and headed to my car.  The wind was howling like a screaming cat and particles of dust and leaves were swirling in the air.  The drive home felt much like a scene out of Wizard of Oz.  Thick dark clouds, trees bending into perfect right angles, broken branches swirling.   Flying monkeys were all that was missing from this extra ordinary scene.  I needed my ruby slippers in a hurry.  Or a broom… huh… which one ??

A little back story.  Starting in mid October, I had begun a rigorous work schedule, more rigorous than it already was.  One of the 3 nurse-midwives in our group had abruptly quit, leaving the two of us to cover clinic and call 24/7 with approximately 20 mommas ready to delivery during each month.  We kept  our promise to our patients that they would have a midwife attended birth as compared to having our back up physicians share our call.   Our new schedule consisted of one midwife in clinic for the week while the other midwife took call for the week and then flipped schedules the following week.  Total Insanity.   Clearly, I had not learned one of life’s most valuable lessons, self preservation.  Looking back, I had spent the last 10 years pushing hard to follow my dreams and to have “it” all at once.  A perfect career and a perfect life.  Admirable but not sustainable.  I know better now.

All my littles were home safe and sound by the time I arrived.  They had already begun to gather flash lights and candles piling them on the kitchen island.  My husband made it home about an hour later, just as the lights went out and total darkness set in.  Elle was becoming increasingly agitated and frightened by the change in her environment.  Quite typical for autistic children.  I was mentally preparing for a very long night.  We made up a tray of summer sausage, cheese and crackers and gathered around our gas fireplace to discuss our survival plan.   Where was the safest place to sleep?  What about our gas tank in our pool house – if a tree falls down could that cause the fuel tank to ignite and explode?  My husband was ruminating on all the potentials and what ifs in an effort to keep his tribe safe.  I love that man.

While we sat around the fire place, I noticed Tim’s hands were clammy and he seemed to have a light sweat emerging on his forehead.  He had been complaining of lower abdominal pain for the past few days.  Shit, I knew this would not turn out well.  After giving Elle a little magical Lorazepam to calm her nerves, we all settled into a restless sleep for the long night.  Tim and I both woke early the next morning and by this time our home felt to be the same temperature inside as it was out, below zero.  Additionally his abdominal pain had kept him awake most of the night and he did not look well.  Within a few minutes he was out the door on his way to Sacred Heart ED for help.  The girls were still asleep but Charlie was up and we decided to go get coffee (COFFEE FIRST) and explore the mess Mother Nature left behind in her furry.

We made it approximately 100 yards before we became fully aware of how much damage had been done during the darkness.  Pine trees blocked our neighborhood streets in every direction, power lines down, and the hum of generators could be heard in the distance.  Charlie’s eyes were wide open, he had never seen anything like this before and neither had I.   Luckily, the wrath of mother nature had preserved Starbucks, miracles do exist.  Vente Americano with extra cream please, I knew it would be a long day.  Next stop, Home Depot.  Armageddon was ON!  Frantic people were hording batteries, flashlights, mini generators, and water.  The power was down city wide, it was below freezing, and Avista crews were broadcasting it could take 5 to 10 DAYS, not hours, to restore our power, our lives.

Time to make a game plan, an action plan!  Time to call the Grande Hotel.  Within minutes I had reserved a room for our little family.  It is one thing to survive a few days without heat and electricity as a self sufficient adult, but quite another when you are responsible for 3 kids, including one with special needs.  It did not take long before our bags were packed with only the essentials including electronic devices and chargers.  Modern day necessities.  Fortunately, our care giver for Elle at the time, Miss April, was one of the few people in our city who had not lost power and she agreed to take Elle until we got settled in our new home away from home and also at night so my call schedule would not disrupt her even more than she already was.  On the way down town, we stopped in the ER to see how daddy Tim was coming along in the ER.  Not good.  After several blood tests and a CT scan, he was admitted to the 5th floor for a contained micro perforated diverticulum.  Ugh.  I was on my own.  Not a problem, keep moving.  We all gave him a quick kiss and I told him I would come see him later during my evening rounds.  Sink or swim, I always choose swim.

My midwife partner and I switched schedules so my odds of being more available to my kids during these unforeseen circumstance would improve.  At the time, she was a DINK (double income no kids) and living the free life.  Pas moi !   Now I would be on call for births as compared to being tied down to long clinic hours.  It was a gamble as to which option would be best as a pseudo single mom, but I rolled the dice anyway.  There were several women about to deliver including one woman in particular that had become some what of a “soul” sister over the course of her pregnancy.  Free spirited, boundless energy,  beautiful, yet she faced some of the same dark troubles I had in my younger days.  She was one of my patients that I had helped to guide back to her center, dust off her wings, and prepare her for life with baby.   There was also another woman I knew was due any day now.  She was the type of patient that no one else could really deal with but me.  Very opinionated, talked a lot and only came to appointments when she felt like in spite of her elevated blood pressures.  I had cared for during her first pregnancy so I think she knew she could trust me.   When she did show up for her scheduled visit, she often brought her 3 yo daughter, the one I had caught a few years back.  She called her Athena.

We were without light and heat for 4 days and 7 hours.  These were some of the most atypical, stressful, and beautiful days of my life.  The Grand hotel spoiled the displaced Spokanites with lowered rates, fresh hot coffee, and 5 star service.  No matter what time of day or night I went to the lobby I always came across a neighbor or co-worker who had also made The Grande part of their survival action plan.  Every where you looked, hotel guests were sharing their storm stories and giving each other hugs and words of encouragement.  Spokane is an awesome community to be a part of.  Lucky.

Every morning at about 5am, I snuck out of my hotel room without waking Amelia to make my way up the hill to our home to see if our power had been restored.  Charlie had moved in with a school friend that still had power and Elle had been spending the night with Miss April.  Serious Team Work and proof that it takes a Village.   Stop lights remained down, huge trees still blocking the neighborhood side streets, and homes that I had become use to seeing with a warm glow from the windows remained dark for days.  It was a very peculiar feeling to walk through our home each morning.  It was a time capsule for our lives before the storm.  Dirty dishes in the sink, stacks of untouched mail and unmade beds.  On day 2 there was a fed ex box on my door step which contained emergency battery operated lights my step dad had mailed over the day before.  These lights saved me.  It was impossible to see where I was walking at 5 in the morning during November.

On the fourth night I was called at midnight to attend the birth of my soul sister, she was expecting her first baby.  The late night- early morning calls are bitter sweet for every OB provider.  Fighting the urge to stay in the land of Nod, finding the strength to trade my warm comforter for chilled leather seats in my vehicle and to wake up enough to safely catch a baby is a serious fucking challenge.  On the other hand, attending one of life’s greatest miracles has been one of my greatest honors and privileges.  As I left the hotel lobby at about 1am, with a warm cup of fresh brewed starbucks and a prewarmed car compliments of the hotel valet service, I remember thinking to myself that I could get use to hotel living.  It’s a thing right?

Jen had made quick progress during her labor and was ready to receive her baby not long after I arrived.  Her husband and the nurse anxiously cheered her on in the few minutes leading up to the birth.  Just as I was about to put on my blue gown, I heard the familiar text ringtone from my phone.  Normally I try to ignore interruptions during these sacred moments but due to the fact that all of my family members were displaced by the storm, I took a quick glance.   It was my neighbor letting me know that the power had been restored to my home.  I smiled and shared the good news with Jen and her husband as I prepared to catch their precious baby.  Only pure joy and gratitude filled the delivery suite as I skillfully guided the baby from within Jen’s body.   Just as my midwife had told me when I gave birth to Amelia, I instructed Jen to reach down and take your baby.   Jen looked shocked but followed my lead and began to sob as she reached down and pulled her beautiful baby boy from her body and directly to her heart.  Tears flowing all around, me included.  Whitman was born from the darkness and brought into the light by the shear strength and perseverance of his mother.

I am still amazed by this thing called birth.  Just because two people have sex/make love … 9 months later a perfect new human is born.  It is a true miracle.  And the sheer strength and perseverance women go through during this process, is beyond admirable and completely selfless.  Women amaze me.  My only wish is that women as a whole, truly knew how amazing they are.

After sneaking a few more hours of sleep, I drove up the hill to confirm my neighbor’s text was not just a dream.  I was so excited to start of the heat, turn on a few lights and start the dishwasher.  Ahhhhhhh, the simple joys of life that we all take for granted until they are stolen away.  It was time to go make morning rounds, check in on Tim and then return back to our true home.  Tim was definitely looking much better and his doctor gave him discharge orders for later that day.  Things were starting to return back to normal.  Thank the lord.  I took a few of Tim’s belongings with me including some beautiful flowers his mom had sent him during his hospital stay.

Before I could return to the hotel to gather up our belongings I had to make one last stop on the mother baby unit to see Jen and baby boy Whitman.  I also needed to round on Athena’s mother, she had delivered the day before.  Once I had done by due diligence, I made my way out to the parking lot feeling buzzed on adrenaline and caffeine.  Just before I climbed the stairs I saw little Athena skipping towards the hospital entrance with her grandma on their way to meet her new baby brother.  I heard her grand mother say “Athena look, that is your mommy’s midwife.”  Athena’s long dirty blonde hair was blowing in the cold wind and the sun was shining bright on her.  “Hello Athena, remember me ?”  I said as I walked toward her and kneeled down to her level.  She had beautiful deep brown eyes that seemed eerily familiar to my soul.  Athena was precocious and wise beyond her years.  Just like my Amelia.   “Those are really pretty flowers.”  She stated.  “They sure are pretty Athena, just like you.  And you know what, these flowers are for you.  Congratulations on becoming a big sister.”  I said.  Her eyes grew big and she giggled with joy as I handed them to her.  As I stood back up her grandmother was starting to tear up.  “No one has ever done anything like this for me or my granddaughter before.  Thank you so much.”  I gave her a hug and told her how proud I was of her daughter and looked forward to seeing them in a few weeks.  And with that special moment sealed in my life treasure vault, I began the journey of putting my home and my family back together again….

In spite of our challenges, our circumstances, there is always goodness and richness to be found.  You just have to remain open to these gifts.