I spent a couple hours the other night rocking someone else’s crying baby to sleep. It’s something I do fairly regularly now as part of a new job. Sweet baby smell, aching arms, and that heavy sleeping baby weight in my arms.
On the same day I also looked at pictures of a friend who had taken her teenage son to visit colleges over spring break. She talked about how proud she is of him and how she is preparing herself to let him go off into the world on his own.
Both situations made me want to lay my head down and weep.
Most of the time these days, I handle being around kids or watching other women mother pretty well. There’s always a slight pinch in my heart, but generally speaking it doesn’t rip and tear the way it once did. I’m so used to that pinch now, I barely register it. For the most part, I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t have my children here to nurture and know in this physical world. I have mostly made my peace with being a mother without living children.
Except Mother’s Day is approaching again. Mother’s Day and Christmas are the two holidays when my heart bleeds fresh. I can’t help but feel bombarded with images and reminders of what I didn’t have, don’t have, and will never have – a baby to love and nurture, a child to raise, a teenager to see grow into independence.
Already, I’m seeing ads and commercials, cards filling up the aisles in stores, displays for Mother’s Day gifts popping up everywhere. For most of the last 14 years, my dearest wish this time of year was to be somehow get lost on some deserted island away from all technology, people, and heartbreaking reminders that I will never be a “real” mother in the eyes of the world.
I wanted to disappear and be invisible in the same way that my motherhood has been invisible and generally disregarded all these years.
However, in recent years, despite the fresh bruises on my heart from reminders of what I don’t have, I have chosen to reclaim Mother’s Day. The world may never see my motherhood or find it as valid and valuable as those mothers with living children, but I wanted to acknowledge it and the motherhood of others like me without their children to hold.
And so Share Your Mother Heart was born.
A 14-day journey created specifically for mothers without any living children to honor, acknowledge, and share their experience of motherhood. To bring us together to talk about our experiences of motherhood, pregnancy, and more – to share the experiences that too often others don’t wish to hear about because our babies have died.
This Mother’s Day let us come together and acknowledge each other. Let’s share our stories and honor each other as the mothers that we are. As invisible as our motherhood might seem to the world around us, we are still mothers. Let’s see each other.
Join us and share your mother heart.
(This post is a modified version of 2016’s Share Your Mother Heart post)
20 Dec 2015
For many long years, I hid my grief and remained silent about how deeply I missed them or how much their absence affects my life.
But silent grief festers. It wreaks havoc on one’s mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It makes us miserable, depressed, sick, lonely and exhausted.
Over the years, I’ve slowly begun to stop hiding it quite so much. Instead, I’ve started sharing it. I have cried with friends. I have shared my grief and longing for my family. I have talked about how difficult the holidays can be when some of those we love are absent.
This year in particular I’ve had no patience for trying to put on a happy face and pretending all the images and chatter about happy families and cheerful celebrations don’t hurt.
I am the only remaining member of that little family of mine and that fact hurts.
It’s not always easy to be honest about one’s grief. It makes most people very uncomfortable. And because it makes people uncomfortable, there is often much judgment, shaming, and “shushing” aimed toward those who grieve openly.
Over the years since I started being more open about my grief I’ve been told countless painful things such as:
“You’re just wallowing in this for attention.”
“You need to just get over it and stop being so emotional.”
“You should be done with this by now.”
“You STILL get sad this time of year. Hasn’t it been long enough?”
“You aren’t being very spiritual, don’t you know life is eternal?”
“Aren’t you over this yet?”
“If you truly believed in God and heaven, you wouldn’t be hurting.”
“You aren’t looking hard enough for the blessing in this.”
“You just need to remember it all happens for a reason.”
Or my personal favorite, “You shouldn’t be a practitioner of this philosophy, because clearly you don’t get it if you’re still grieving. If you just choose to feel love or joy instead, you wouldn’t grieve.”
In the early years, a statement such as those would send me back into silence with a gaping, bleeding wound on my heart. Nowadays, I’m better at shrugging those kind of thoughtless statements and judgments off and standing in my own truth.
However, even now that I’ve learned to shrug these statements off and be open and honest about my grief, every time I open up and share I can feel my self-protective defenses rise up around my heart.
Even now, I catch myself mentally preparing to defend why I feel as I feel. I find myself struggling with anger and defensiveness, highly alert for anyone who might jab through my defenses and into my already aching heart.
It’s exhausting. And quite frankly, it makes the grief already present even hard to bear.
Just this weekend, I shared another post on Facebook about how very much I miss my family and wish they were here with me. In the hours since, I’ve noticed myself feeling tempted to withdraw from people, preparing mental arguments in my head to defend how I feel, and struggling not to put up walls around my heart to close people out.
I don’t want to feel as if I have to defend myself or my feelings. I want to simply be me – real and messy and joyful and sad and complex in all the best ways.
And so as I’m noticing the desire to defend and protect, I’m doing my best to breathe and allow. To remain open and vulnerable. To lay down my defenses and keep my heart open. It’s uncomfortable and scary and uncertain.
Just like grief. Grief is uncomfortable – for those grieving and those around the grieving.
It’s easier, at least in the short term, to shut out the discomfort for both parties.
It’s easier to judge and dismiss and criticize – which are just another kind of defense – someone who is grieving than it is to sit with them in the discomfort and love them exactly as they are.
It’s easier to put up defenses and protection or to stay silent rather than stay in the discomfort of opening one’s heart and allowing vulnerability.
But when we shut out the discomfort, we also shut out the love.
Real, open, honest, raw, vulnerable, unconditional love.
Because silent grief festers.
But grief met with love soothes and heals.
12 Dec 2015
December might be my very least favorite month. Every where I turn it feels like reminders of the ones I’ve lost are shoved so aggressively and continuously in my face, ripping open scars on my heart.
The holidays. A time when the world wants to shun and hide grief and loss even more than it does in ordinary days. No, let’s cover it in shiny paper, twinkling lights, cheery songs, and glossy family photos so no one has to experience the discomfort of grief and loss.
I write and talk about how invisible it can feel to be a mother to children who died before birth, how that motherhood is so often unseen and unacknowledged in the larger society. I carried them in their too-brief lives, however, and the love was immeasurable.
I feel the same about having had the love of my life die before we were married. Only engaged so I never got to fully be wife or widow. I was told once that I was lucky to not have been married yet when I lost him, as if somehow that made the pain less. She was wrong. We had the love, oh there was so much love and I have experienced the heart wrenching grief of the loss of him.
I have often felt invisible in that grief.
Because let’s be real and honest here, grief makes people very uncomfortable. No one likes to see or acknowledge its presence. It’s force and depth and power not only makes so many very uncomfortable, it often scares them.
They don’t want it to happen to them and they don’t like the reminder that it could.
I used to feel that I had to be invisible with my grief. I used to feel that if I was honest and open about how very much I missed them and longed for them still, even after so many years, I would be judged or criticized or even left by those around me that I loved.
And, it’s true, I have been judged and criticized and even left because people thought I should “get over” my grief and my losses or that I was wallowing in them. I have been told I was “not very spiritual or evolved” because I continue to grieve for my family. Each and every time that has happened, it has hurt. Bitterly. Painfully.
But I don’t hide anymore.
I am a mother who grieves her children and will long for them until the day I leave this earth.
I am a partner who grieves for her love and will miss him until the day I leave this earth.
What I wish people understood is that these facts are true and also do not negate the good and joyful in my life. I am capable of living both.
What I wish people understood is that this continued grief does not make me weak, or unhealthy, or emotionally unstable. It makes me strong. It takes courage and strength and immense bravery to love beyond death, to face the waves of grief when they come, and to live open and wholehearted in a world that doesn’t wish to acknowledge death or grief, to be seen in a world that wants to make your grief invisible.
I wish people understood that while our society runs from grief and death and powerful emotion, I do not. I am not afraid of the hugeness and the power of grief and emotion. I have withstood losses that ripped and tore and battered the very heart in my chest and my heart still beats, still loves, and still lives. I can handle the life and death and grief that comes from loving so completely.
I wish people understood that the platitudes and pressure to move on, the silence and the “concern” about my lack of letting go does not help me or them or anyone. You do not have to understand my grief, but listening, loving, and accepting me wherever I happen to be does help. My putting on a happy face for others may make them feel more comfortable, but it also damages our relationship and hurts me deeply.
I wish people understood that my continued grief does not mean I have not accepted the loss of those I love. I know that they are gone. Accepting their loss does not mean I no longer miss them or long to hold them. I accept that they are gone and I accept that I will always miss them.
I wish people understood that they cannot fix this loss. No words and no actions can fix this loss. It cannot be fixed because there is nothing to be fixed. This grief, this longing is a normal and natural response to the loss of the physical presence of those I deeply love. I am not broken and this does not need to be fixed.
I wish people understood that even if I fall in love again or have more children it would not take away this grief I have for the ones I have lost. I may very well love again and marry someday – and I will still miss the man I loved and lost. If I did choose to have more children and they lived, I would still long for and miss the ones who died. My love and my daughters cannot be replaced. My family will always be missing them.
I wish people understood how exhausting it is to feel like I have to hide myself and my grief from them. Or how painful it is when they shy away from my expressions of grief and love for those I’ve lost, when they try to gloss over my grief with platitudes, or whisper to others about how concerned they are about my emotional health.
I wish people understood I only desire them to simply be real with me. Share your discomfort. Ask for what I need. Ask for what you need from me. Tell me how you truly are. Talk to me if you are concerned. Let me share with you. Let me tell you how I truly am. Let me reassure you of your concerns.
Let’s all just be real and open and honest with each other. Let’s stop hiding behind platitudes and whispered concern. Let’s stop hiding behind “I’m fine’s” and “I’m doing ok” and happy faces. Let’s stop promoting invisibility.
Let’s see each other, exactly as we are. Messy. Imperfect. Uncomfortable.
Let’s give each other the gift of loving each other – exactly as we are, where we are, and who we are. No conditions, no judgments, no hiding.
Raw. Vulnerable. Honest.
All of it is beautiful. All of it is love.
Are you a mama grieving your baby(ies) this Christmas? Find some love and comfort in the Invisible Mothers: When Love Doesn’t Die book, written just for mama who have lost their first or all their children during pregnancy or infancy to know they are not alone. xoxo
07 Dec 2015
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.
Let’s be real.
The holidays can be a bitch after the death of someone we love.
It’s been 13 years since my little family died and I still wrestle with finding peace during the holiday season. Even now, it’s a tangled mess of emotions – longing, joy, sorrow, gratitude, grief, and loneliness.
The bombardment of shiny, happy families in commercials. Cheesy holiday movies vomiting out endless everything-works-out happy endings. People talking about making memories and wrapping gifts for their kids and plans to visit family.
Sometimes, I can find a bit of holiday cheer – twinkle lights, hot cocoa, and gratitude for all that I do have.
Other times, it’s all I can do not to sob my way through the months of November and December with the constant reminders of the family I lost.
Still, I have learned a few tricks to make the season less dark and gloom and a little more peaceful and light. Perhaps, if you’re struggling with grief and loss this season, some of what I learned will make the holidays even a little bit more bearable.
1. Be selfish
Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be the season of giving and selflessness.
When it comes to surviving the holidays after profound loss, all the “rules” to proper etiquette can be dumped in the trash. (Although, I have to admit, I’m not one to bother much with rules of etiquette regardless!)
Truly, you deserve to be well tended and loved. Especially now.
It may not always be easy to do, but take time for yourself. Give yourself the love and space and pampering you need to face the stuff you can’t avoid – memories, empty chairs, demanding family, etc.
Maybe you steal 15 minutes in the bathroom reading a book. Maybe you treat yourself to a massage. Maybe you take yourself out the the movies. Maybe you order take-out so you have one less thing to do every day.
Or maybe loving yourself looks like crying. Maybe it’s telling a trusted friend just how hard the holidays are this year. Maybe it’s saying no to some or all of the festive holiday gatherings.
Maybe it’s all or none of the above. Your needs are unique.
But take time for you. Be selfish. Ask yourself, what do I need right now in this moment – and then give yourself permission to give it yourself.
2. Find ways to remember and honor
One of the hardest parts about the holidays after a significant loss can be how people seem to forget the one we love and miss so deeply.
We’re struggling to make it through the day with painful reminders of chairs that won’t be filled, memories that won’t be made, and traditions that won’t be fulfilled. Yet it can sometimes seem like everyone else had forgotten or doesn’t care.
The truth is there are many reasons why people may not bring up our deceased loved one. Perhaps they feel like doing so would cause us more pain. Perhaps it makes them uncomfortable to remember. Perhaps they simply don’t understand the importance of acknowledging your loved one this season. Or perhaps they really have simply forgotten as unfathomable as that feels to you.
So, take charge. Bring a candle to light in memory of your precious loved one at the table. Ask that a place be set for them even though their body won’t fill it. Request a moment of silence to remember them. Ask others to share memories with you.
Whatever it is that would help you to bringing your loved one into your holiday, do that. What others think or respond to your actions and requests is their business, not yours. You do what you need to do and let them handle their own feelings about it. They’ll manage, I promise. Just like you are.
3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel
Grief is powerful. It’s also a bit of a sneaky bastard.
It can sneak up and knock us to our knees when least expected. You are feeling ok, maybe even good, and then out of seeming nowhere – boom! Tears and grief and that terrible burning emptiness around your heart.
Allow it. Let it roll through you without resistance – it’s the only way it will move through.
Breathe some more.
Cry if you need to. Wail and scream if you need to. Give in to fits of slightly hysterical laughter of you need to.
And smile when you can. Laugh when you are able. Feel ok or even good when that is your truth.
Chances are you’ll feel it all before the holidays are done for this year. Give those feeling space to be and they will move like waves, crashing and then ebbing away.
4. Banish the “shoulds”
This goes back to the idea of allowing selfishness again.
There can be a lot of demands and expectations that come with the holidays – sometimes from others and sometimes from ourselves.
Here’s something I’ve learned that has helped immensely. If a demand or expectation comes with an underlying “should,” run like hell. Shoulds are misery making.
“I should go to XYZ because. . .”
“I should give XYZ because. . .”
“I should be XYZ. . .”
“I should feel XYZ. . .”
Or, from others
“You should be . . .”
“You have to do XYZ . . .” (Have to is just another masked should)
“You should feel . . .”
No. No is a perfectly acceptable sentence to say this holiday season.
Truly, there are very, very few things that you absolutely HAVE to do when it comes to the holidays. Most are simply more of those social or family rules of etiquette – and life will not end of those are broken.
Yes, people might raise a fuss or not understand when you say no or you express feelings they don’t like. That’s their business. You can kindly and politely say no and do what you need to do for you.
5. Focus on the love
Love for yourself.
Love for the one you are missing.
Love for the people around you.
Sometimes love isn’t all twinkle lights and shiny packages.
Sometimes love is saying no. Sometimes love is tears and leaving an empty chair. Sometimes love is setting boundaries. Sometimes love is letting other know the truth of how you really feel rather than protecting them.
If ever in doubt about how to handle something this holiday season, ask yourself this:
What feels like love?
What would love do here?
Let that be enough.
Now, this is far from an exhaustive list on how to navigate and survive the holidays without those we love so deeply. There are a million ways to do it because everyone’s way is a little different.
Take what works and leave the rest. In the end, it’s about trusting and loving yourself.
Do what you need to do for you.
And know you are not alone. We’re here.