I would like to introduce myself. My name is Ginny Oddson; mom to two beautiful boys; wife to the most amazing man; daughter to a precious mother; sister of two brothers; sister-in-law to two sisters; two bonus brothers; aunt to some pretty incredible nieces and nephews; and a true friend to so many who bless me with their friendship. If you know me, then you know that I call myself a Warrior Mama. I use this powerful description because I fight a battle every day. See, I am a mama to sweet Grady here on earth and his brother, Kelby, in heaven. I fight to choose joy over sorrow, hope instead of despair, and faith over fear every day. Sometimes, I win those battles, but most times I lose them. Does that mean I give up and surrender? No! It means I wake up the next day, put on my armor and head into battle repeatedly. I will continue to fight because even though this life is incredibly difficult, it is incredibly beautiful.
My son, Kelby, passed away from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) on February 2, 2014. He was only sixteen months old and a perfectly healthy little boy. He went to sleep one night and did not wake up the next morning. My husband and I had gone to bed as a family and woke up a couple again. SUDC had taken our sweet boy from us, and, at the time, we had no idea what that meant or why it happened.
Kelby was my rainbow baby, the baby you bring into the world after the loss of a pregnancy or child. I had lost my first pregnancy one week shy of my second trimester. When I got pregnant with Kelby, I was terrified. I just knew something was going to happen to this pregnancy, and I would lose him, too. Week after week and appointment after appointment, the doctors continued to assure me that he was growing perfectly, at times so much it was a little scary. He decided to keep growing one week after my due date, so my doctor decided to induce labor. We all thought we would settle in for a long night of labor, but he had other plans. I delivered him via emergency c-section only four hours later because his heart rate kept dropping. He entered the world silently, but only for a second. His cries were music to my ears after a heartbeat of silence. I look back now and realize he came into the world the same way he left it, silently.
Kelby was such a blessing and joy. He brought so much light into our lives. He was your typical little boy who loved trucks; dirt; Mickey Mouse; Superman; his dog, Sly; his babysitter, Ms. Laura; and his mommy and daddy. He was so expressive and animated. When he did not want to do what we asked him, he would point his finger at us and say, “bo,” his word for “no.” I remember thinking I was in for it because he had me wrapped around that crooked little finger.
When Kelby died, my husband and I lost our joy, our light, and our hearts. We were absolutely lost. Our perfect world shattered, and we had no idea how to navigate it without our baby. About six months before he died, I had seen a post on Facebook from a mother that had lost her son that was around Kelby’s age. She was a friend of a friend and from Arkansas, my home state. I remember seeing her post and thinking, I do not know what I would do if I lost Kelby. That nightmare had become a reality, and I knew that I had to talk to her. I had to know how she was doing it; how she was surviving the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. This incredible woman became my lifeline, my guide on a journey we never wanted to be a part of, and a soul sister. Soon after Kelby died, another amazing woman lost her child to SUDC and became another soul sister. If it were not for these mamas, I am not sure I would have ever been brave enough to start living instead of surviving. We are forever soul sisters connected by tragedy, forged by fire, and battle every day to mother children who are no longer living.
I am not a stranger to grief. In January of 2012, my little brother, William, was killed in a car accident. He had just gone back to Little Rock to start his second semester of his first year in college. Like most college students before school starts, he went to a party and decided to drive home after drinking. We were born only twelve months and 3 weeks apart, so I lost my best friend as well. I now speak to youth about “outliving their dumb” and being responsible and not drinking and driving. One important lesson that I learned very quickly is that we are not defined by our mistakes. William was a funny, brilliant young man, and I miss him every day.
In October of 2012, my father passed away at just 55 years old. He had been sick on and off for many years from the time that he was just a boy. For most of my life, he was in and out of the hospital for various surgeries. At the time of my dad's death, my mom was getting her masters in Addiction Studies in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which was a four-hour car ride round trip four days a week. She used her grief as motivation fueling her passion for learning. After William had died, my dad became our hero. He was in so much pain physically and emotionally, but he rallied for our family, in the end, this surge led to his body failing. He knew what we all needed and was willing to bear the weight of grief to carry his family through the hard days ahead. In my heart, I knew there would be a day that I got a phone call from my mama saying he was gone. My older brother and I say we knew when our phone rang on October 15, 2012, that daddy was gone. Once again, we were in a place of complete heartbreak. My daddy is now watching us from above with my brother and my son. When Kelby died, I heard my dad say, “Don’t worry baby, I’ve got him.” Knowing that my son met two of the most important men in my life, and they were now holding him, gave me a small measure of comfort.
After Kelby died, I knew that I had to find a way to release the pain that was consuming me. I joined a CrossFit program at my local gym and threw myself into working out. I worked out two times a day for months until my body decided I needed to do something different. I began to pursue other forms of exercise such as barre, spin, lifting, TRX, yoga, and Zumba. It was not until I started running that I really began to understand that movement and exercise provided me with the outlet I needed to release the pain and grief I felt inside. Running is my therapy now. Through the past 8 years, it has always been my go-to exercise. I love to mix up my workouts, but there is something about hitting the pavement that settles my soul. Working out and running is now a way of life for me, and it provides me with a healthy way to cope with all the other ways my grief manifests such as depression, anxiety, stress, and the struggles and joys I face parenting Kelby’s little brother, Grady.
I knew after losing Kelby, I still had so much love in my heart to give to another child. Knowing that, I still waited a year to even try and then it took a year to get pregnant because I was so sad. When I got pregnant, I remember crying and freaking out and my husband saying, “I thought this is what we wanted.” This was the plan, but I was terrified. With my first and second pregnancy, I followed all the rules and was not on any medication and because of this, I decided I needed to go off my antidepressants. When I did this, I quickly realized that my mental health was suffering incredibly, and I scheduled an appointment at my doctor’s office. When the doctor walked in the room, I immediately started sobbing. She took one look at me and said, “Ginny, your well-being and mental health are in direct correlation with your baby’s” and put me on a lower dose. That doctor saved my life because my world had gotten very dark. I wish that society and medical doctors were all on the same page with pregnant mothers, their mental health, and the role it plays in a healthy pregnancy. During my pregnancy with my second son, I struggled connecting with him. I just knew in my heart I would not be able to love him as much as I loved Kelby. Boy was I wrong!
Grady was born August 8, 2016 and came into this world kicking and screaming wanting us to know he was here and ready to party! I was scheduled for a c-section, and he made his debut smoothly and without a hitch. The second I laid eyes on him; I fell in love again. My heart expanded two-fold, and I knew I could not protect my heart from this sweet baby boy. Dan and I decided we would try and be the parents to Grady that we were to Kelby. That took a valiant effort considering we were so scared to lose another child. We have done a surprisingly decent job of not being neurotic parents and have allowed him to grow up as normal as possible. He has no idea what goes through our heads most days when it comes to his safety and well-being.
Little Grady man is now five years old and the joy in my world. He is my wild man who loves riding his four-wheeler; playing flag football; baseball; soccer; swimming; golf; nerf guns; arts and crafts; helping his mom, dad, and Ya Ya; and all the candy he can talk us into giving him. He and I butt heads at times, but that is what God knew I would need. He knew for me to stay engaged as a parent; I would have to have a challenge. This sweet boy makes me laugh and dream and love with every fiber in my being. I am so proud that he calls me Mom. He knows all about Kelby, his uncle William, and his Gain Gain, my dad. I just signed him up for his first fun run after a race I am running this summer. I think he might have the running bug which makes this mama happy. He already understands the importance of movement and exercise. Watching him grow every day is a joy most parents take for granted. We do not try to speed up time and just take life day by day.
I try to use all my experience to help others and if I can help just one person not feel so alone then I have succeeded. I am launching my new company, Warrior Mama, (warriormama.net) this month. Our purpose is to create and sell inspirational, motivational, comfortable athletic apparel and accessories that bring mamas together in coping with the struggles and joys of parenting. I have also been involved and on the board of a local non-profit organization called 3Hopeful Hearts that makes it their mission to provide immediate support to every family in the northern Colorado area who have experienced child loss. They gave me what I did not know I needed at a time I needed it the most.
November 6, 2022, I hope to cross the New York City Marathon finish line carrying all the love I have been given in this beautiful and tragic life. It is an incredible honor to run for The SUDC Foundation and to have two of my best friends running the race for them as well. It is a privilege to run and move my body and one I do not take for granted. This body, mind and soul have been through so many highs and lows and ups and downs. God has given me the strength to wake up every day and choose joy over pain, love over loss, and hope over defeat. They say that running a marathon is mental toughness over physical strength. If that is true, I would like to think that I have it in the bag. I always say that I fight a battle every day, and I am a Warrior Mama. I will show my strength, one breath at a time.