I will premise this op-ed with a brief introduction of myself. My name is Danielle Osterlind. I am a wife, a mother, a Master’s level educated professional woman with an MBA in Organizational Psychology and a small business owner of a marriage and family therapy practice. I’m a powerful, strong, capable, energetic and empathetic woman. Every day, I make a lot of important decisions that influence my life, my family, and our community as a whole. I’m not that different from internationally known late night television host Jimmy Kimmel, except that I am one woman, one Mom, who does what I do in a small office, behind a small desk, by myself, everyday. Jimmy, it seems, is one man, one Dad, who does what he does in front of millions of people every night. I’m sure you can see the similarities.
Today is May 10, 2017. Last week I arose one morning to see social media video of Jimmy Kimmel’s broadcast story about his newborn son, facebooked, tweeted, reacted to and shared across the global internet thousands of times (probably millions by the time you are reading this).
I read in quotes, “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.” Since I had a baby that died almost nine years ago, I was immediately intrigued. I clicked play and spent the next approximately 13 minutes watching and crying along with his very emotional, very raw, very honest, very heartfelt, very passionate offering of his experience, his story, his pain, his love and his hope.
Jimmy’s newborn son, born a few weeks earlier, almost died hours after he was born, as his heart was not formed or functioning properly and not successfully distributing the oxygen he was breathing throughout his tiny body. Fortunately, baby Kimmel and his family were in a well equipped hospital with knowledgeable caregivers who identified the problem and worked to get him the help he needed as soon as possible. He was rushed into open heart surgery where some of the world’s most genius doctors “cut him open with a scalpel” (a horrific thought for any baby) and made the first repair to a valve in his heart to get it pumping properly. As I’m sure you are now, I was relieved and happy to hear that about two weeks later his newborn son was home and doing well. As a parent who has been in a similar situation, it felt very good and very validating of my grief and my trauma to see and hear Jimmy sharing his story. And I believe it was good for him too, because as humans, sharing our stories is how we heal.
Moving along, there are additional factors in this event that are of particular interest to me. Overall, Jimmy is being lauded as a brave and courageous hero for being such a sensitive and loving Dad, openly expressing his emotions and sharing them with his viewers. Even former President Obama chimed in with a “Well said, Jimmy” tweet. These accolades for Jimmy are great in that they are showing that we can be rewarded for expressing our honest emotions openly. They are absurd because this shouldn’t even be a thing. We all have emotions and the fact that we live in a society within a culture that typically does not allow people to feel safe to freely express their emotions is sad. All men and women should feel so free to share their fear, their pain and their grief. There should be no international praise because it should be a normal commonplace form of communication that people engage in. Unfortunately, it’s not. Over the years, since my infant daughter died from factors of her premature birth that led to bleeding in her brain, I have cried and shared my story, and I have been shamed for it. That’s right. When I stand in front of a room of people and truly share my story, and reveal my raw emotion, it makes people uncomfortable. They squirm in their seat and count the seconds until it’s over, until “that emotional woman gets control of herself.” I had a Licensed Clinical Social Worker once tell me, after an intense situation in which I openly cried, that I was inappropriate and made him uncomfortable. I overheard another woman say, “I wonder if she still has grief work to do.” Interestingly, when my husband shares the exact same story, people rush to rub his back, hug him and praise his strength and sensitivity. The difference is strikingly obvious. Men who openly express their emotions are perceived as sensitive and strong. Women who openly express their emotions are perceived as weak and emotional. Speaking for myself, I can tell you that second impression is wrong. When I choose to share my story and my emotions publicly, it is one of the bravest decisions I make.
Another component of this situation that intrigues me is how this powerful, terrifying and emotional event launched Jimmy into taking action toward putting a stop to that pain, for himself and others, and to do good in the name of his son. Similar to Jimmy, as I have moved along my healing journey, I have chosen to honor my daughter’s life by taking the massive amount of love and wisdom I received from her in her short seven days in this world, and pay it forward by marching for babies, advocating for children and volunteering for humanitarian causes. Jimmy was inspired to publicly solicit donations for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the hospital that so compassionately has the resources and ability to help children and families in these circumstances. He also appealed specifically to the leaders of our country to take action to ensure that all Americans (I wish he would have said all HUMANS) have access to resources and can get the help they need to care for their children, because again, “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”
There are two lessons we can embrace from this emotionally painful situation that can help us contribute toward positive change in our society. First of all, share your emotions when you have them. Keeping your emotions bottled up is stressful and can lead to anxiety and depression. On the inside, we may feel alone, but we are not. Whether happy or sad, our ability to feel emotions is what makes us all human. Make the decision now to be brave, share your emotions and pave the path for emotional acceptance in our society. Share your story with trusted family and friends or share your story with a trained professional counselor. An experienced therapist can help you process your situation and give you the tools and resources you may need to truly heal, regain your strength and recover. Also, be a safe person for others to share their emotions with as well. Practice offering an empathetic ear when the opportunity arises. If we, as humans, can grow into an empathetic society, we can heal from within.
Secondly, take action for good. To honor yourself, your heart, your soul and the lives of those who share your story, or one similar, take action for good. If you have lost a baby, sign up for the March for Babies. If you are appalled by the tragedy in Syria, volunteer with Carry the Future. If you want to put a stop to racism, march and protest against the Muslim ban. Do something to honor your story and you will be able to feel a sense of healing empowerment.
You, and only you, can write each chapter of your story. You can make the choice to allow your sadness to fuel your meaningful action, which can turn it into good… Your loss, your trauma, your sadness does not have to define you. The impact it has on your motivation to work towards positive change in our world can.