Isaac’s Anniversary

 

I’ve cried a million tears.

Enough to fill up a bucket. Or a cradle, if you will.

This past year has been momentous, and at the same time, so banal. In one day, our son died and I lost the required body parts to have more children. In the other 364 days, I’ve built Duplo towers, cooked stir-fry, hosted friends and family, celebrated birthdays, built hundreds of PowerPoint slides, and written thousands of emails.

Traumatic events are like that – a huge blip on life’s radar. But life keeps moving forward. It can be hard to reconcile missing someone so much with every day events. I try to buy things to memorialise Isaac, print the perfect picture, to do, say, or hear the one thing that’s just right and fixes that feeling inside of me.

But there isn’t a thing or a person or an action that will fix this. This is unfixable, and the grieving process for me is about figuring out how to live with that; how to make room for that huge emotion that comes with loss. [How could someone who doesn’t exist any more take up so much room?]

One year in, I know that Isaac’s death doesn’t define me, but it has changed me indelibly. I wouldn’t change who I am now, with deeper empathy, compassion, and capacity for joy. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, handle in handle with T, Maxwell, and Vivian.

Thank you to everyone who has sent a card or flowers, had a kind thought, given a hug, or just been a little more understanding to us or to those around them. We really are so lucky.

A poem I found online from another bereaved parent Kate Inglis on Glow in the Woods describes so eloquently exactly how I feel:

My Moon

You are my sunshine baby, love.
You are my sunshine
Liam is my moon.

(Ben smiles. He always smiles when we imagine Liam.)

Liam is my moon.
When we are asleep
He whispers to me
Not with words, feelings, hello through the veil
But with a distant hum
Like how the moon pulls the tides —
And you can’t see the pull —
Only the water moving here and there.
That is how you know. The moon.
I am his mother.
I am the water.
When clouds or murk or snow block the moon
There is still the pull.

The moon does not say Ta-da! like the sun
Or make warm spots for cats
Or make pretty things and tomatoes grow
Or wake up hungry fish and hatch their bug dinner.
The moon is small sometimes, a sliver, barely
Far away,
Hidden a lot.
Every now and then we go into the dark
Everything shimmers and we say, softly:
Oooh, look.
And everyone gets quiet, shushed, standing in the shimmer.

You are my sunshine baby, love.
You are my sunshine.
Liam is my moon.

 

Happy 1 year birthday, Isaac.

 

Remembering:
Isaac Tres Fitzsimmons
Oct 2, 2017

Isaac Tres Fitzsimmons

Moon photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash.

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So many emotions

It’s the night before we take our first trip back to the USA after Isaac died. We had planned this trip before he was born, and decided it was even more important to go now that Isaac wouldn’t be going with us. It has been a strange experience to grieve so intensely, so far from our homeland and large circle of family and friends. Our friends here have been wonderful – but let’s face it, no matter how many people are around you, when you go through a loss this momentous, you feel very alone.

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I’m excited but trepidatious to see everyone. Well – there’s never enough time to see everyone – but to see so many people. It’s also going to be overwhelming, because so many people have grieved with us but from afar, and now we’ll be there in person to weep and hug.

A few people in my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances have also lost babies long after those 12 or 18 week pregnancy landmarks (though pregnancy loss at any point is felt very deeply). After I became a parent, I marveled at how they put one foot in front of another every day; how they smiled; how they continued to love after going through such a tremendous loss.

Now that I’m part of that terrible club (1 in 110 pregnancies are stillbirths), I still marvel at how we do it. Because losing a baby is so, so much worse than you can ever imagine. But also, never have I felt closer to our primal, natural roots, because childbirth is dangerous. I’m lucky to still be alive; not everyone looses 10L of blood and lives to tell about it.

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The title of this post (So many emotions) might as well be the summary of the past four months, and a prequel to our US trip. Things are going to be weird, no doubt. Death is a tough thing to discuss; to be around. It’s ok to laugh, to cry, to not know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, just give us a hug. Give each other a hug. Ask us what Isaac looked like. What his memorial service was like. What his cremation ceremony was like and why T and I cracked up laughing in the middle of our tears during it.

Tell us about your lives; about your beautiful, vibrant, imperfectly perfect selves and families and experiences. Because that’s why we’re still here: Life. We put one foot in front of the other; we wake up every day; and we want to do that with all of the love, irritation, passion, indifference, and contradictions that life entails.

See you soon.

xxoo

Casey

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Photos are from the memorial service we held for Isaac Oct 12, 2017 at Hampstead Heath in North London. Photos taken by the very talented Steven Anthony, a North London based photographer.

Reflections on a year in the UK

Our year in numbers:

Steps walked: Over 3,000,000 each. Thanks, no car!

People who learned how to walk: One. We can’t even begin to calculate his steps

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From not walking to standing in his two wrong shoes.

Public transit rides: Over 11,000. Again, thanks no car! And thank you Transport For London – you really are amazing,

Visits to parks: Over 275

Flights taken: Over 25? I really have no idea.

Friends made: 16-ish. It’s an evolving number.

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Baby friends! Vicente, Viv, and Scarlett.

Countries visited: 10 – Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Czech Republic, Wales, Mexico, USA, with Germany being my most frequent destination oddly.

Family and friend visits: 11!

Flats lived in: Three

Times I forgot my passport and T had to rescue me: Two (I didn’t need a passport to take my 4.5 hour flight to Texas, why do I need it for my 1 hour flight to Germany?)

Babies born: One

Amount I miss our family and friends in Boston: Immeasurable.

How glad we are we undertook this adventure: Immensely.

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From one of our first pub visits in July 2015, and then daily life from Aug 2016. Max isn’t a baby anymore, but someone else is!

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We decided to move here for a lot of reasons – firstly because we wanted the experience of living abroad as a family, but second because we agreed that this would be great for my career.

It was a little bit of a hard decision to keep the move on track when we found out I was pregnant (13 week when we took the flight over), but we were committed to the adventure. It didn’t make things THAT much more complicated. #Imlying   However, it did make it easier in some ways to make friends since we took an NCT class and met 7 other couples expecting kids at the same time.

The journey has been lonely at times. Anyone who has moved to a new city can attest to that. We went from being surrounded by loving family and friends to feeling like a solitary family unit floating around London. T and I experience this differently – his weekdays were no longer spent with Steve, and mine were surrounded by new coworkers as part of a new piece of business where everything had to be established, not just social connections.

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A new walker and his dad in Aug 2015.

The payoff in terms of my career has been tremendous. I regularly work with and present to VPs and CMOs of very large companies – all about search. I smile when junior team members say that they want to learn channels besides search so their career is marketable — because the demand for search planners, managers, etc is off the charts here. [To be clear, I respect them wanting to learn other channels but just not for the reason of being ‘marketable.’] [Also – if you’d like to come work in London in paid search or SEO please let me know.]

There’s something nice about being at a new company in a new city — about leaving your past behind in many ways. Not that our / my past was bad; it’s just that very rarely are we in a situation where ALL relationships are brand new, and impressions newly formed. People know me first as a 35 year old American marketing professional with two kids (or one kid with another on the way); they don’t have the memory of 28 year Casey who was too casual at a client meeting or 25 year old Casey who got unreasonably upset at work or 31 year old Casey who was an enthusiastic manager and speaks really loudly. I suppose that’s not really a function of moving to the UK per say – it’s a function of leaving a company I was at for 9 years (and had a wonderful experience at for the record).

Being in a new place can be exhausting. Or maybe it’s having a toddler and a baby – but it’s probably both. I can say that a year in, I don’t have to check the map three times before leaving and then every block on the journey. I know where to buy cardamon and lamps and jeans (answer: Amazon. Just kidding. Kind of.). I sort of know how to get refill prescriptions from my GP. I love WhatsApp for talking with my Boston peeps. I definitely know what to consider when running a global piece of digital marketing business – though as they say, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

I don’t know how I’ll feel in another year or three – but I am glad we undertook this adventure. Here’s to pushing yourself – personally and professionally – because you just really never know what will happen as a result.

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Max and Viv enjoying life.

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Patio time!

Dentist in the UK: They Exist

Hi Friends. It has been awhile since we’ve blogged – mostly because the wordpress app for the iPhone is TERRIBLE, and after hours of working I just can’t face turning my computer on at home.

After a year here in the UK, I finally bit the bullet and went to the dentist. YES they have dentists here despite the poor reputation of British teeth. Here’s the situation as I see it in regards to why dental care is not pursued as rigorously as in the states:

Socialized healthcare doesn’t really include dental coverage – though reduced cost dental care is available to everyone – see here for the details. It’s a decent amount of money – £20 to £53 for basic care. This is MUCH less than it would cost in the US without insurance, but it’s still a decent amount of money for many families.

In addition, real cleanings cost £45 or so if you don’t have a “medical need” for a cleaning.  That’s a lot of money for most people. It’s ironic because if more people with good teeth got regular cleanings, there would be less need for more serious treatments that are heavily subsidized by the NHS. When I left the dentist, the receptionist also didn’t ask me to make an appointment in 6 months.

As a result, I don’t think dental hygiene is ingrained in the culture the same way it is in the states. Sure people brush their teeth and maybe floss, but way fewer people have had orthodontia (must be costly – though it is in the US too) or get regular dental cleanings.

The good news for me is that if you’re pregnant or have had a baby within 12 months, you don’t have to pay the £20 for the initial exam, or £50 for fillings / crowns (!) / etc. I had a filling that fell out so they refilled it – but of course I paid for the white filling (£75). That’s pretty on par with the US. EXCEPT I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO PAY JUST £50 for my gold crown… which even with US dental insurance, I had to pay $650 for when I got it a few years ago from my dear dentist.

In terms of the quality of treatment – I went to my neighborhood dentist because they received decent reviews on Google and on the NHS review site (yes all medical practitioners have user reviews!). The cavity filled was between two teeth and it’s a little jagged now – shreds my floss – so I’d give them a B-. X-rays were just single on either side and the old fashioned film kind (instead of digital). The cleaning was good, used that scrapey water pick thing and manual scraping too, followed by a polish. They didn’t floss my teeth for me but I always hated that part anyway.

In conclusion – I don’t think my teeth are going to suffer horribly for the years I’ll be in the UK, and I hope to god my crown needs replacing before I leave so I can avoid the $650 charge in the states. Here are my pretty yellow pearly whites:

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Look ma, no tarter! Or pretty filters or make-up. Keepin’ it real here, folks.

Now just to figure out when our little three-toofer and full toddler need to go to the dentist…

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I don’t know my lines!

This is what happens when your brother comes over from the states and you get a babysitter and partake in a few beers:

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Ugly chin faces. We love you Kristen!

After a few more beers, this happens when you log into your caseywilliams@gmail email address to verify your UnTapped [beer app] account:

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Hello 40+ cast members. I’m Casey Williams and I don’t know my lines!

No one responded to my obvious plea for help.

Weekends in London

As in, weekends if you live in London but not in central London, and have two kids under the age of 2.5.

We spent this glorious three day weekend exploring and enjoying  and of course doing chores. It was supposed to be kind of terrible out, but thankfully the sleet, hail, and rain ended Friday night. Saturday our goal was to get out of London… And we just managed to do so. And avoid a £20 fine each for not having the right ticket. St. Albans was a lovely town.

Sunday was chores and preparation for our friends to come over to dinner. Max ended his portion of the evening by saying “Bye Uncle,” indicating he thinks all men who play horsey, drink beer, and barbecue with Dad are Uncles. He’s basically right.

And now it is a lovely lovely day – Bank Holiday Monday. Seriously that’s what it’s called. Apparently the bankers need a break… And so do we. **UPDATE: I took a four hour nap. Clearly I needed the break!**

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Train time! Very very exciting. On our way to St Albans for the day!

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We went to St. Albans, just outside of London. I think it counts as our first outside of London day trip, though countryside residents may disagree.

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In front of the St Albans ginormous church.

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Walking on the grounds of St. Albans church.

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Outdoor lunch I at the ubiquitous pub, this one in St Albans. Not pictured: the 600 year old clock tower behind us.

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Saturday night – We learn why the swing has straps on it. Viv didn’t even squeak, though she was falling out of her swing and had lost her pacifier. She was just happy to observe pizza making!

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Sunday – Chubby mcchubbers, ready to take on the sun.

 

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Max “helps” with the buggy on our walk to Crouch End for groceries and beer. A 20 minute walk means far better selection, and a great way to enjoy the weather.

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Can’t I nap on the sidewalk?

 

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Maternity Leave in the UK: The Real Story

The first thing everyone said when I told them I was pregnant and moving to the UK was, “Oh so the baby will be a UK citizen!” Sadly, the UK does not have birthright citizenship.

The second thing (or the first if I was talking with another pregnant lady in the US) was, “Oh don’t you get a long [paid] maternity leave?”

And the answer for me/us is No. Definitely no.

First I’ll explain my  understanding of the UK maternity leave laws, and then my situation.

Generally speaking, women in the UK are allowed 26 weeks of leave plus an additional 26 weeks (making a full year). For the first 26 weeks, their employer is required to keep the same job for them; if they take longer than that 6 months, the employer is required to keep an equivalent position open for the mother (so not the same job necessarily, but an equal job).

The good news is that [almost] everyone gets some form of maternity leave pay courtesy of the government, making this the biggest difference as compared to the US where only 12% of women have access to paid paternal leave.

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Wouldn’t you want to spend time with this nugget? This is her passport photo. Yes really.

In the UK, provided you “have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth”, you are eligible for:Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)  for up to 39 weeks. SMP includes:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

Essentially you get some money for up to a year post-birth.

We found the eligibility rule confusing. What the heck does that phrase “26 weeks prior to 15 weeks to the expected birth” mean? In retrospect it seems obvious to me, but it means you basically have to have been working in the UK since you conceived the baby. 15 weeks prior to the expected birth is 25 weeks pregnant. So even more than that – you have to be working since the week before you were pregnant (or technically, the first day of your last period) in order to have achieved working for 26 weeks prior to the deadline.

The cool thing about this is that you don’t have to be working for the same employer, job, or even working full time at one job (it could be more than one job adding up to the requisite hours) to qualify for maternity benefits. Because it’s government based and not employer-based, as long as you’re working in the UK, you’re good. You don’t have to stay with an employer just because you want to qualify for maternity benefits! Or healthcare for that matter! This is a definite plus.

However, I was 12.5 weeks pregnant when I started working for my new employer, so I didn’t qualify for SMP even though I’m paying into the system, and will be paying into it for several years post-baby.

Often employers will have additional benefits they give to mothers or fathers… but I don’t qualify for most of those either, not that I blame them. Heck, I’ve only been here 8 months.

But wait! If you don’t qualify for SMP, he UK also offers Maternity Allowance! What a country – £139 per week for 14 weeks as long as you have worked full time for 26 weeks of your pregnancy. And because Vivian was 1 week late, and I worked up to my due date, I would have worked for exactly 26 weeks!Hurrah!

Alas, no. The government bases your eligibility for Maternity Allowance on the expected week of birth, not the actual week of birth. Which is stupid. Because I worked up until the end.

The last possibility is essentially unemployment benefits… but I’m still employed, so no dice.

So here we are, 11 weeks into unpaid leave. I can’t use sick time, and technically can’t use vacation days (or holidays) as they’re known (though I do continue to accrue them and they’re paid out upon my return).

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My check-in day, or Keep In Touch day. Laptop in my lap baby between my sweat panted legs.

HOWEVER (you knew there was something coming), the UK does allow up to 10 “check-in” days that mothers can take without sacrificing their maternity leave time or benefits. Essentially you can work up to 10 days while on leave. For moms taking 6+ months (which is most of them), this makes a lot of sense – it allows them to stay connected and get compensated for it. I will have 5 or 6 check-in days, which I have used to interview candidates for a few open roles, check email, talk to the team, and reduce the size of my inbox. They’re helpful for everyone – my team, our bank account, my sanity upon returning…

It is going to be a joyous 13 weeks of minimal pay… but luckily enough, we were able to save before we moved here as this is what we expected. And unlike most people in the world, I get to have a job to go back to, and a leave that I can spend with my husband! The whole time!

Most women in the UK take 6 months at minimum, so there is a lot of shock and awe about my “short” leave, but it worked out wonderfully with Max. We are so so so lucky that T (husband) stays home to take care of the kids. It makes life so pleasant for all of us, at least as pleasant as it can be until we’re billionaires sipping margaritas by the side of our pools – ok beer, let’s be real.

Hopefully this demystifies some of the lovely benefits of European living! Or what would be lovely. Actually it was quite lovely. See photos below.

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Keeping it cool on one of our many walks.

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“ARG MOM WHAT IS THIS BRIGHT LIGHT?”

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Sewing was my “me” time on maternity leave. And by “me”, I mean “me including a pin-wielding-toddler” time.

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The morning I went back to work. The lucky kids get to hang out with their dad!