As a woman, we often wear many, many hats, it’s in our DNA—we wear a lot of shoes too but that is another issue altogether. This month’s Inspirational Mom is Christine Duenas: Mother, Advocate, Friend, Certified Lactation Counselor, Partner, Clown. Yes, I said clown. That might have been the thing that drew me to her in the first place. She is a clown—or was, though I am not sure one can ever fully retire from being a clown, I would imagine that is something that is hard to shake. I found out quickly though, that her being a clown was not the most impressive part about her story. The other thing that drew me to her was her son’s name--or rather his nickname—Danger. His full name is pretty cool as well, Owen Samuel Danger.
A clown, with a son she calls Danger and young daughter named Opal, who is an advocate for Certificate of Still Birth legislation (NYS site: http://www.stillparentsny.webs.com) and who turned horrible grief over losing her daughter Olive Lucy into advocacy and support for other bereaved parents.
On an otherwise normal day in August 2007, Christine, 9 months pregnant, went into labor and went into the hospital. Her and her partner, Watson, were not planning on having children but were so over the top thrilled that the decision was made for them. When they went in everything was fine. The baby’s heart beat was normal and everything was progressing as it should. They said she wasn’t far enough along for them to keep her so she went home. They waited and timed the contractions which were still coming. By the time Christine went back in to deliver Olive Lucy (say it fast and it intentionally sounds like I Love Lucy—a nod to Lucille Ball) a few hours later, they quickly became aware that something went horribly wrong. The doctors were no longer able to find a heartbeat. There was no explanation, just a lot of caring medical staff trying to help and support the family that yesterday had everything to look forward to.
Christine is not one to shy away from her story. She is out there talking about how Olive Lucy was delivered stillborn. Although she feels that people generally have a hard time thinking about a child dying, especially one so little, she knows that people are dealing with the issue and they need someone to relate to. So she reaches out because through her grief she can touch others in the same situation and provide a little support. When I asked her if this was still difficult to talk about, she replied, “I think I am so comfortable in my grief -- or grief in general. In life there is a point that some things need to change to become something more. It's that whole metamorphosis.” Unfortunately, Olive Lucy’s story is part of life, and Christine finds talking about it cathartic.
To me, she is inspirational mainly because it couldn’t have been easy to stand up and recover from something like this, it is far easier to crawl into bed and hide. But that just isn’t her style. She quickly sought the support and care of the medical community that helped her through her pregnancy and joined a bereavement group. It was an uphill battle, but through her blog http://clownfamily.blogspot.com she was able to share her extremely personal journey as her and Watson dealt with their loss while fortunately finding themselves pregnant a few months later to Owen Samuel Danger. Owen was born in 2008 and in 2011, her baby girl, Opal was born.
Christine now volunteers with the bereavement support group First Candle, helping them out with their Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/FirstCandle) and drums up awareness about a new initiative for Stillborn Birth Certificates [the official name if it matters: New York State Certificate of Still Birth] which have recently been approved in NY State. This will give those who cannot go home with their baby a much deserved record of their child’s birth.
Christine is also a Certified Lactation Counselor and Breastfeeding USA Counselor, Staten Island NY Chapter. She organizes and conducts monthly meetings of Breastfeeding USA, Staten Island Chapter (every 4th Thursday of the month from 9:15-10:30) which are now being held at the Staten Island Children’s Museum officially (the meetings are free and include entrance to the museum during the meeting time but if the members want to stay they may need to pay the admission fee). What’s more, Breastfeeding USA, Staten Island Chapter was chosen to be the first ever breastfeeding specific Affinity group for Staten Island Children's Museum, a deserving distinction indeed.
As a breastfeeding mother, she felt that Staten Island was in need of a group—a community—where mothers felt safe to discuss and actively practice breastfeeding outside of the house. “Being a breastfeeding mom here doesn't have to be about how you parent, or if you eat the best diet. It just has to be about wanting to breastfeed your baby,” She explains. The Breastfeeding USA, Staten Island Chapter now has a core group of mom’s who come to the monthly meetings and co-hosts a very active and vocal Facebook contingent who are dedicated to breastfeeding and the benefits it has for their children. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/SIBFmoms/)
In retrospect, I chose Christine as this month’s Inspirational Mom because, although I have never actually met her—we have been in the same place at the same time but somehow keep missing each other—I know how much thought she puts into being a mom. She has had experiences that many of us will never have. Experiences that have changed her irrevocably and what her and her partner Watson endured with the stillborn birth of Olive Lucy has made her not only stronger, but thoughtful—and that to me is pretty inspirational.
I will leave you with a quote. When I asked her what her favorite part about being a mother was, she first said she had a tough time with that question. Then after some thoughts said, “My favorite part about being a mom is watching what will happen next. Watson always tells me I mourn their growth but I fall in love all over again when they change.”