Reluctant Inspiration
January 29th, 2010

Some people aspire to inspire – Olympic athletes, motivational speakers, the odd politician, etc.  But I’ve always believed that the most inspirational figures are those who never intended to set an example; the ones who, due to adversity or tragedy, reluctantly took up this mantle, for lack of a better alternative. 

In my life I’ve been inspired by many people; both public figures and people I’ve known personally.  But lately I’ve found myself inspired by two people who don’t fit either description. 

A little over two years ago Mike and Heather Spohr welcomed their premature and tiny new daughter, Madeline, into the world.  After two-plus months in the NICU she went home and, despite a few hospital stays here and there, lived a vibrant and healthy life.  Like any smiling, joyful baby, Maddie was the sun around which her parents orbited.

It was last April when the game changed.  After a sudden and critical respiratory infection, Maddie passed away quite unexpectedly.  And it was at that time that Mike and Heather’s incredible blog, The Spohrs are Multiplying, went from a happy record of their normal life to a gut-wrenching account of the grief of losing a 17-month-old. 

Most marriages end in divorce after the loss of a child.  Not Heather and Mike.  They have stood together every day since Maddie passed away.  They founded the Friends of Maddie organization that provides support to other NICU families.  And when their blog won a $1,000 prize in December they donated all of the prize money to their foundation – enough to provide 40 families with NICU support packs.   They raised more than $100,000 for the March of Dimes through donations that were made in honor of Maddie.  And in October they traveled to Washington, DC on behalf of the March of Dimes where Heather spoke to members of Congress to help raise awareness about the perils of prematurity.

However.  In spite of all that they’ve done to honor their daughter and fight for other preemies, it is the intimate account of their journey through grief that has most touched me.  They have told their story, in all its dark shadows and glimmers of light, for nearly ten months now.  They have told of being broken.  They have unveiled the facades they wear when they brave the world outside their home.  They have confessed anger and envy and its gruesome supporting role in the grieving process.  But most of all, in the face of sadness and emptiness that I can’t summon the will to imagine, they decided to live! 

One week ago Heather and Mike welcomed their second daughter, Annabel.  Through a grueling and high risk pregnancy that included blood thinning injections, anti-contraction medications, gestational diabetes, and bed rest Heather bravely carried Annie until she was just a few days shy of full term.  She is healthy.  And she is home. 

As has been eloquently explained on their blog, grief is not a process with an end point.  They will never stop mourning Maddie.  But we muddle through heartbreak to find our way to redemption.    I hope for Heather and Mike that Annie’s birth is the light at the end of this tunnel.

It isn’t my pain.  I cannot fathom a loss of this magnitude.  But tiny slivers of Heather and Mike’s pain traveled through cyberspace and into my heart.  I am overwhelmingly inspired by the Spohrs.  I wish I weren’t.  I wish their story were ordinary and uninteresting.  But it isn’t.  And while inspiring is nothing they ever aspired to be, I am grateful that they are.

Heather and Mike, thank you for sharing your story.  I pray that I never know this breed of pain.  But in the event that I do, it is the example of your strength that I will follow.  Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. 

Very sincerely,


12 Responses to “Reluctant Inspiration”

  1. Gale's mom Says:

    FYI, Gale…I may worry as much about you and your family as I worried about my own (you)! You’re finding that the longer you live, the more you see. Your compassion is so admirable, but there’s little that can beat the courage of parents who lose a child. Thanks for telling us about this family.

  2. Anne Says:

    Yeah, a really amazing story. Amazing how the people who inspire need not be celebrities, or even people we know. Great thoughts on a great and brave couple.

  3. Nicki Says:

    Thank you for sharing this family, Gale!

  4. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Gale, thank you for this poignant and powerful reflection on two people worthy of being considered inspirational.

  5. Bridget Says:

    Gale – wow. I just want to say ditto to your letter. I don’t think I would ever be able to compose such an eloquent letter, but I agree with everything you say. I also got hooked to their website (thru your blogroll, I might add) and have shed many a tear over their honest account of the greatest loss. I was happy to shed a happy tear last week when I saw the news. Indeed a very inspiring family!

    I also love to see the support they receive from the cyber world. If you watch the news you’d think the world is on the verge of anarchy at any moment, but when you read their story and the comments from strangers from all parts of the globe all you see is the love that people innately have for each other. Though she only had 17 months, Maddie’s life has spread way more love than my life has in 31 years. I suppose that’s the most comfort a parent can have after such a devastating loss.

    To Heather and Mike: Maddie’s life was impactful. Reading your story has made me more appreciative, more compassionate and more wise about life and my place in it. I only hope that at the end of my life, whenever that may be, I can say I spread as much love as Maddie has with her 17 months (however, this may mean that I will have to live to age 351…). Thank you for sharing you life with the world and letting us all see that there still is more love than hate out there. Congratulations on the birth of Annie!

  6. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking and beautiful story. I wish them a wonderful future with their newest gift.

  7. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    This story is indeed inspirational. I have so much respect for this family, for their strength, their endurance, their humility and hope in the midst of unfathomable pain and loss. And I have so much respect for you for casting the spotlight on a tale of triumph that will touch and inspire so many. Thank you.

  8. Mike Says:

    Hi Gale,

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful post. I shared it with Heather and we are both so touched that you think of our family that way. We’ve definitely had a tough road to walk the last ten months, but we keep sharing in hopes that we might be able to help others by doing so. Thank you for letting us know that is indeed the case. Best, Mike

  9. Gale Says:

    Mike – I am both honored and flattered that you and Heather took time to stop by and read my post. Life with a newborn is a beautiful haze and not something that necessarily lends itself to blog-reading.

    Do not doubt for a moment that your story is impacting to your many readers. We come back every day because your thoughts, emotions, and example are nothing short of astounding.

    My very best wishes to your growing family,

  10. Laura H. Says:

    I read your post with tears in my eyes. We have some friends who experienced the loss of their daughter 8 years ago. They have since had 3 beautiful and healthy boys. Their strong spirits, faith and marriage have been truly inspiring to me. They talk openly about their daugther and their loss, but they also live life everyday with passion and fulfillment, even though I know they also mourn her everyday. Her life is honored in the work they do in support of organ donations. I have often struggled to find the words to thank them for their friendship and inspiration. I would like to thank you for helping me find the words through your words. I feel like I could substitute Mike and Heather’s names with theirs and I hope you don’t mind if I do use a line or two from you.

  11. Gale Says:

    Laura – I’m so glad my post spoke to you. And please feel free to use it to convey your feelings to your friends. The Spohrs’ story is both heartbreaking and heartening. I’m inspired by them daily, and I was honored to share their story.

  12. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » March for Babies Says:

    [...] who died at seventeen months of age just over a year ago due to complications from prematurity.  I have followed her family’s arduous journey through grief and birth for many months now, and in the process have become aware of the March for [...]