Holding Avery: A Memoir
By: Heidi Chandler
When her otherwise healthy, even idyllic, first pregnancy ends in the sudden and terrible stillbirth of daughter Avery, Heidi Chandler and her husband are left at a total loss. Looking into Avery’s perfect face, one that never cooed or cried, Heidi realizes how much her life has changed. Holding Avery is a raw exploration of life after the death of a child. Heidi Chandler unapologetically recounts her heartache — the fears and doubts that come with knowing she is a mother but without a child to care for. The unabashed honesty of her grief will resonate with anyone who has experienced loss and found that the question 'why?' may always go unanswered. But Heidi learns that moving through the tragedy is not impossible.
About the Author
Heidi Chandler grew up in the small town of Gaylord, Michigan. She loved reading and writing from the start, spending her early years writing short stories and selling them to classmates for a penny. Heidi graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in journalism and education and eventually settled into a career as a high school journalism teacher. After the death of her daughter in 2008, she reexamined her priorities and left teaching to focus on being a mother. She also started writing again. Her debut novel "Holding Avery" was released in June 2014 by MP Publishing. Heidi lives in Texas with her husband Chris and their two sons.
Connect with Heidi at the following sites:
Q&A with Heidi
Thanks so much for having me! I grew up in Gaylord, a tiny little town in Northern Michigan where they get an ungodly amount of snow. I was a total bookworm. I read anything I could get my hands on, everything from science fiction to romance novels to the classics. I went to college at Michigan State University where I studied English and journalism, and I eventually became a high school journalism teacher. After I lost my daughter I had a real epiphany about my life, so I quit my job and started writing my first book, Holding Avery. I now live in Texas with my husband Chris and our two sons.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
It's always been a huge dream of mine. When I was a kid I thought I would just grow up and be a writer, but the older I got the more I realized how difficult it is. My academic advisor in college looked me straight in the eye and said, "Nobody just becomes a writer. You need a legitimate career to fall back on." So I went into teaching, but there was always this little voice in the back of my head nagging me about my unfulfilled dreams.
Your book, Holding Avery, is a memoir about a very devastating time in your life. Why did you decide to write about it?
Holding Avery started out as a cathartic experience for me. I started writing the book a little over a year after Avery's death, after I had just given birth to my first son. He was such a joy, but all I could think about was my daughter. I started writing down my feelings, the story of losing Avery - I really never expected to share it with the world, since it's an extremely personal story about the darkest time in my life. But the more I wrote the more I realized that telling my story might not just help me finally process my grief, it could help other people, too. Losing a child to stillbirth is an extremely lonely, confusing experience, and I feel incredibly lucky that my story has become a tool to help others.
What do you hope that your readers will take away from the book?
I hope my readers will realize how strong the human spirit is, and that life can be beautiful even in the face of tragedy. I hope that it helps people who have had a stillbirth feel less alone, and that it helps their friends and family understand what we really go through. I also hope it makes people realize how many of us there are. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 26,000 babies are lost to stillbirth each year. Technically, if stillbirth were included in the leading causes of death in the U.S., it would rank 11th. It’s such a taboo subject, something most people are afraid to talk about, yet it happens all the time. And it can happen to anyone.
For those who are going through similar circumstances, do you have any advice?
I wish I had a magic piece of advice that made everything better, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way. But I can say that it will get better, and there is life after loss. In the beginning I spent so many days just shuffling around my house, lost and crying, feeling completely empty inside. But time kept moving on without me, and I had to make a conscious decision to move on, too. It's now been six years since Avery's death, and yes, it still hurts. But I also have an amazing life with two beautiful boys that wouldn't be here if Avery would have lived.
Any advice for people who know of someone going through this and what they should or should not do to help?
The first thing would be to make sure you understand what happened. I had a lot of people that didn't quite understand what a stillbirth was, and that led to a lot of uncomfortable conversations. I also think that being a good listener is the best thing you can do. A lot of people kept trying to make me feel better by saying things like, "At least you can have another baby" or "She's in a better place now." These friends did all of the talking, when all I really wanted was someone to truly listen. Everyone grieves differently, but I think the best thing you can do is being available and ready to open your arms and your ears.
Do you have any recommendations as to where people who have experienced a stillbirth can go for support?
There are a lot of great organizations that offer counseling and support. A few that I found helpful are First Candle, The Star Legacy Foundation, The MISS Foundation, and Through the Heart. I also found hearing other people's stories extremely therapeutic, and there are quite a few good books out there. (Including Holding Avery, of course.)
What is next for you? Do you have any more writing projects coming up?
When MP Publishing finally picked up Holding Avery I felt this sense of validation, this realization that I really am a writer after all, so I have to keep it up! Right now I'm working on my first piece of fiction, something I like to call someone else's memoir. It's the story of a young woman named Gray who never fully mourned the loss of her mother and is haunted by her past. The book follows Gray's quest to find love and happiness in a world that keeps letting her down. I've been working on it for almost a year now, and I'm almost finished with the first draft. Writing can be a challenge with two little boys running around the house!