brigitte-tohm-210081Courageous Mama who has lost so much –

I see your pain.

Though you may present the world with a smiling face and statements of “I’m fine,” I still see the broken and battered heart you carry. The heart broken by the devastating loss of your precious child.

I see how you cry.

I see the hours you spend in the shower, where your tears mix with falling water. I see you under the blankets, curled in the fetal position as sobs shudder through your body. I see you stagger out of the office or the grocery store or your family’s home, barely closing the car door behind you before the tears course down your face.

I see how much you ache.

That unbearable ache of your empty arms that long to hold your beautiful child. The hollow bitterness of seeing so many other women getting pregnant and having babies. The blinding pain of seeing family after family, innocent and intact while yours is forever missing it’s most precious members.

I see the envy and the jealously that lingers.

I see the waves of jealously and bitter anger that flood through you with every new pregnancy announcement and every perfect new “rainbow” baby presented. I see the guilt you feel for not feeling happy for family members or other loss families who get what you may never have – a beautiful living child to raise and nurture.

I see your doubts and fears and inconsolable sorrow.

The uncertainty of knowing if you will ever have another child, one who lives and gets to stay here with you on this Earth. The inconsolable grief of knowing there will never be a living child for you to hold and teach and parent. The fears of feeling empty and broken and incomplete forever. The doubt that you can find hope or healing without a child to raise.

I see your everyday longings.

The longing to hear your baby cry at night. How silent tears stream down your face when you realize there is no baby crying, it was only a dream and your baby is forever silent. The utter quiet of your home without the laughter and noisy play of your child. The first day of school pictures you don’t get to take and the birthday candles you don’t get to see your little one blow out.

I see all of this. I know all of this.

But I also want you to know that I see how you love.

You, beautiful courageous mama, are the fiercest of mothers. You love beyond time and space, beyond death, and beyond the weight of your grief and tears.

You, Mama, love and remember and honor even when the world tells you to be silent, to move on, and to forget. You refuse to listen to the world. You might stagger and stumble at times under the burden of loss and grief, but you always stand up. Your love always outlives your grief.

Keep on, courageous mama. You have something the world and death can never take away.

You are a mother. You love with a mother’s unbreakable love.

And I see you.

CIMG0542I’ve started getting holiday cards with smiling faces of families and holiday greetings in the mail.

They arrive in brightly colored envelopes of red and green and silver.

Sometimes they make me smile.

I enjoy seeing updated pictures of friends and family. It’s fun to see how the kids have grown over the year for families who live many miles away that that I rarely get to see. I like reading the family update letters often included and hearing what they’ve been up to throughout the year.

These cheery pictures and busy updates also make my heart ache.

I never send holiday cards.

I ache to have my own family holiday cards with happy (and probably silly) photos of my little family to share. I long to be able to write all our names along the bottom – with love from Emily, Ryan, Grace and Lily and the four-leggeds (because my kids would have pets to play and cuddle with).

It hurts my heart too deeply to send cards empty of my family’s images and signed only by me. I never had the chance to send a holiday card with pictures and updates with any of my family members. They all died before the holidays ever came around to create them.

I tried one year to send picture-less cards to those I loved. Tears flowed every time I signed my name and saw it there alone.

With every card that comes in my mailbox, come delight and grief in equal measure. Gratitude for those I love and the beauty of their families and the longing of my heart thumping painfully with every envelope of red and green and silver.

Every year I can’t help but wonder,

What would life be had they lived?
Who would they be?
What would the holidays be like with my family here with me?

You may never notice the absence of my little family’s card in your mailbox.

But I do.

Recupcakecently, I posted on Facebook that I missed my daughter as her would-have-been birthday approaches. A simple statement of “I can’t believe it’s been so many years and I miss her.”

The following day, I got a note from someone who had seen my post and who was “concerned that I seemed to be consumed by my loss” and thought I “would really benefit from accepting her death and moving on.”


Initially, I thought I’d just remove this person as a friend and let it go. But it kept nagging at me. Because this ill-conceived belief that in order to “move on” and live a fulfilling life, we need to forget and never talk about our loved ones again is an opinion pushed on many of those who grieve. Not only is it misguided, it’s hurtful to those finding their way through grief.

What this person failed to notice, apparently, is that I live a rich, vibrant, fulfilling, and beautiful life. I am happy and ambitious and fiery and successful.

And, yes, I still miss my daughters. Every day.

I still look for them in all the children I see. I wonder who they might have been. Holidays have an emptiness no one could fill but them.

Sometimes I still cry for the longing to hold them. There is an ache inside, mostly just beyond my conscious awareness, that likely will never completely ease.

I light a candle on their would-have-been birthdays and eat a cupcake to remember them.

Yes, it has been what feels like far too many years. I don’t grieve as I once did and I also don’t expect this missing, this longing, this ache for them to ever fully leave. As long as I love them, I will miss them. That will be for always.

It does not, however, mean I am consumed by grief, broken by this loss, or somehow pathological in my grief because I continue to miss them.

My life is rich and full and beautiful. It is filled with the brilliance of my love for them and the shadows of their loss. Moving on does not equal forgetting.

I am living while grieving. There is nothing healthier or more beautiful than that.

That is what moving on actually looks like.

Forgiving my 20 year old selfOver the last 9 months or so, since I really started working on my Invisible Mothers book project – from the conception of the idea, to interviewing mothers, to starting to write the book, and now to being in the midst of my Kickstarter campaign – I have struggled with shame around my loss experiences.

Unlike most of the mothers that I have interviewed, my first pregnancy and loss were unknown to anyone but myself (and my doctor and medical staff, obviously). While many mothers struggle with trying to talk about their loss and their grief with loved ones and feel met with silence and isolation, I never tried.

Since I launched my Kickstarter for the book a couple weeks ago, it’s been a bit of an inner struggle to share it without a a level of shame and hesitation for me. I believe in this book and I believe in the importance of talking about the topic of pregnancy and infant loss – and yet, part of me hesitates.

I have been putting my story out there in a much bigger way and all that shame and guilt and embarrassment for my younger self has risen to the surface.

It was never my intention to be so secretive about my life back in my early college years. I never expected to meet someone to love so early in life. I certainly didn’t expect to get so serious with him so soon and get engaged. I also didn’t plan to get pregnant. I definitely didn’t plan to have them both die on me.

And I absolutely never thought I would experience all that and not have anyone in my family ever know about it.

That has been what I have carried shame and guilt about for so many years now. It’s not as if I had an unsupportive or unloving family. Quite the opposite, in fact. My family has always been there for me, encouraged me, supported me, and loved me.

This project has brought all that up for me to take another look at.

And I realized that it’s time to forgive my 20-year old self. She did the best she knew how.

My 20-year old self didn’t expect to fall in love so young. I can forgive her for the insecurity and uncertainty of that love that prompted her to keep it from the family she most wanted to share it with. I can forgive her for not having the emotional skills to know how to handle her fears and doubts.

She did the best she knew how.

My 20-year old self didn’t expect to get engaged – and, honestly, she was more surprised than anyone when she said yes. Because, hell, now how was she supposed to tell her family that she was engaged to a guy they knew nothing about? I can forgive her for her fear of rejection and doubting of self.

She did the best she knew how.

My 20-year old self didn’t expect to find out she was pregnant – or for the equally powerful feelings of joy and terror at the news. I can forgive her for not knowing what to do. I can forgive her for feeling lost and confused and happy and excited – and overwhelmed with indecision.

She did the best she knew how.

My 20-year old self didn’t expect to then find out her fiancé had died in a car accident before she could tell him about the baby. I can forgive her for the terrible grief that was paralyzing and that threw her world out of balance. I can forgive her for not having the courage to tell her family about the baby when she couldn’t tell the one person she wanted to tell – the man she loved and the father of her baby.

She did the best she knew how.

And my 20-year old self didn’t expect to get the news that her baby had died. I can forgive her for getting lost in that heart-shattering, indescribable grief of losing not just her child, but also the remaining link to the man she loved. I can forgive her for barely having the strength to breathe, let alone speak out.

I can forgiver her for denying herself the support and the love of her family.
I can forgive her for staying silent in her pain and her grief.
I can forgive her for denying her family the chance to know the love she felt for those she lost.
I can forgive her for not knowing how to handle what even the strongest of us struggle to handle.
I can forgive her for not knowing better.

Because she did the best she knew how.

I did the best I knew how. Until I knew better. Then I did better.

That’s all any of us can do. The best we can, until we know better.


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