03 Sep 2016
I spend most of my days surrounded by mothers.
Mothers raising their living children.
Mothers grieving their deceased children.
Mothers raising living children and grieving deceased children.
I love the work I do – supporting mothers of all varieties.
And sometimes being surrounded by mothers and children is so painful all I want to do is put my head down and cry.
I’ve been doing that a lot lately.
Crying behind closed doors.
The truth is as much as I love my work with mothers it’s hard to be around them. It’s painful to watch mothers give birth to living, breathing babies. It hurts to watch their children grow and to see them mother in ways I never will. It’s difficult to get excited for all their milestones and developments knowing my children will remain forever tiny babies, silent and still.
It’s somewhat easier, though also painful, to be with other mothers like me – the grieving mothers. It’s more comfortable to be with those who get what it is to watch your child grow only in your imagination, never in your arms. They know what it is to cry behind closed doors for the experience of motherhood we don’t get to have with our children. Still, it somewhat challenging at times to be around the grief and pain of mothers with dead babies.
Grieving mothers often ask me how I can bear to work with living children and their mothers.
Mothers with living children often ask how I can bear to work with grieving mothers and their dead children.
Sometimes I ask myself those questions too.
My answer is usually pretty simple.
I believe in life. I believe in living fully – all of it. The ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, the shadows and the light.
Being a mother to a living child is about life.
So is being a grieving mother.
Our culture isn’t fond of facing or talking about the shadows of life – on either side of motherhood. Death, grief, babies who die, the challenging and messy aspects of mothering living children, postpartum challenges. Society doesn’t like to acknowledge any of that.
Instead, there’s a fanatic focus on idealizing motherhood.
Perfect, natural birth.
Perfect, healthy babies.
Perfect, by-the-book parenting.
Perfect, superwoman mothers.
We like to whitewash the shadows – glossing over dead babies, imperfect mothers, grief, mistakes, postpartum issues, trauma, loss, any difficulties of any kind.
Don’t talk about the shadows and only acknowledge the glitter and lights.
However, both sides of motherhood exists – the shadows and the light.
Yes, pregnancy is beautiful. Birth is amazing. Motherhood is a precious gift.
And some pregnancies also end in death. Some births are filled with silence and tears or trauma and pain. Some motherhoods are invisible. Some mothers struggle. Some mothers experience postpartum depression and anxiety.
Why do we constantly try to deny the shadows of life and motherhood and glorify the light?
The shadows of life cannot and do not dim the light of life. Motherhood can be messy and painful and challenging AND be beautiful and amazing and light-filled.
The shadows only enhance the light and make it more visible. We cannot have light without shadows or shadows without light.
The truth is whether something is viewed as a shadow or a light depends on your perspective.
Because life is made up of both shadows and light, to deny either is to deny life.
So, yes, it hurts to work with living children and their mothers. It hurts to work with grieving mothers and their dead children. It hurts to BE a grieving mother with dead children. There is also joy in both. Joy in seeing all the messiness and light and pain and joy of every kind of motherhood.
I choose to embrace them both – the living and the dead, the shadows and the light, the joys and the sorrows.
The shadows enhance the light.
The light casts shadows in it’s wake.
Where shadows and light merge is where life happens.
I choose life.
I’ll cry in the shadows, laugh in the light, and find life in all of it.
Whether your children are living or deceased, this is what motherhood is made of – the shadows and the light. There is love and loss, joy and pain, gifts and challenges. Motherhood encompasses all of it.
07 Jan 2016
The 14th year.
How could it possibly be that I’m in the midst of living in year number 14 without you? How can it be that I have lived and breathed and cried and walked and laughed without my love and my sweet baby girl for more than 13 years now?
I meet so many who are brand new to their grief and to this thing called life after loss. They are just now learning to live without their partners, their babies, their most loved ones. They are on day 3 and 20 and 90 and 275 and 489. Days and weeks and months.
How is it that I’ve now lived for so many days and weeks and months and years without seeing your faces, touching your hands, hearing your voices, and holding you next to me?
Some days it feels as if I held you and touched you just yesterday. Other times it feels so long ago that I half-wonder if I imagined knowing you.
But no, you were real and beautiful and bright. You were my love. You were my baby. You both were my family.
Even in my 14th year without you, I still miss you both. Every day.
I wish I could say to some of those I meet that the longing and missing of their loved ones will ease over time and years. I wish I could say that as the weeks and months and years pass, that the absence of the ones they love gets less. That the space that their loved ones left will be filled in by time and life.
I can’t. Even now, in year 14 without you, I still miss you fiercely. I still long to touch you, talk with you, kiss you, and laugh with you. The absence of you in my life has never filled.
The pain is less. The grief isn’t as overwhelming and intense as it was on day 30 or month 26 or year 5. Life has bloomed and filled and moved along without you. The days aren’t the same black or gray or filled with sobbing and weeping that they once were.
Life has become beautiful again. There is color and sunshine and sweetness to fill my days and my years, even without you. The life that fell to ruins after you both died has been rebuilt into a beautiful mosaic of colors and art.
Year 14 is very different from day 14 or week 14 or month 14.
Yet my love for you has not changed. Missing you has not eased.
I imagine I will love and miss you just as much in year 34 or 54 or 74 as I do now in year 14. Even as life moves forward and new love might blossom and grow, I will love you and miss you both.
14 minutes or 14 years, my love and my heart, I love you.
Fully. Fiercely. Always.
I am not, however, your typical mother.
Both of my children died before birth. Grace was born 12 years ago and I held her tiny body, silent and still, in my arms for one brief hour. Six years ago, Lily was miscarried from my body too soon to be held and cradled in my hands.
So, for 12 years I have mothered without my daughters here with me. This is what I have learned.
Love doesn’t fade
My love for my girls is still as rich and full and overflowing as it was when they lived inside me. I often hear mothers of living children say that they love their children more as they grow. I find the same holds true for me. I love my daughters more with every passing year.
I cannot see them, hold them, touch them, or hear them, but my love simply grows.
My girls gave me the opportunity to be a better person
When my girls died, I was faced with a choice. Lose myself in this all-consuming grief and pain or find a way to live again.
I can’t say I made the best choice those first few years after Grace died, but in the end, I have chosen to live. And I have chosen to allow the experience of their lives and their deaths to be an opportunity to grow as a person.
Through them, I have chosen to love more. Be more. Experience more. Forgive more. Have more compassion. Expand my perspective. Express more kindness. Be more understanding.
Their lives taught me about love. I’ve chosen to let their deaths teach me to love even more. It is a choice I can make every day.
Grace and Lily are my teachers. I choose to be their student.
In a way, I have a thousand daughters
It is an odd thing to have children that your heart knows so deeply, yet to have no real sense of them in this physical world. I felt their energy, their essence while I was pregnant. I will always remember of sense of peace and calm that came from Grace those months I carried her and the fire and restlessness that churned while pregnant with Lily. It gave me a glimpse of who they might have been, what their personalities might have been like.
I have dreamt and imagined countless times over the years of what they would have looked like, what their interests would be, how their personalities would have developed, and who they would have been. I have imagined them in a thousand different ways, with a thousand different faces and bodies, changing interests and preferences.
I will always wonder of the Grace and Lily who might have lived. I will think of them and look for them all of rest of my days. I will see them in the children around me, in my dreams at night, and in the beauty of this world.
In my mind, there are a thousand possible Grace and Lily’s. Each of them loved and longed for, whoever they might have been. For me, they are not just one child, they are thousands.
Grief is an always-evolving process (and it’s not my enemy)
Initially, the weight of their loss and my grief was all consuming and indescribably devastating. When Grace died, the world, as I understood it, shattered and has never been the same.
Over time, my grief has softened and I have put the pieces of my world back together. My world will never look the same as it once did, but it is good and sweet and beautiful again. I look at the world through changed eyes. I feel with a heart that was expanded and stretched by two little babies, a heart that has been pieced back together with a love and a sorrow that have made it stronger.
Once, in those early years after Grace left this world, I was afraid of my grief. It’s power and intensity cowered me. But grief was not my enemy. Nor was death.
Grief and death are, as Grace and Lily are, my teachers. When I learned to live with them, I was able to stand again. When I allowed grief and death to become my teachers instead of my enemies, I gave myself permission to live again, wholeheartedly and fully.
I have also come to learn that grief will always be part of my life. It will appear at expected and unexpected times and probably most often when I don’t want to acknowledge it. It will ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean for its source is that of love, and love cannot die or fade away.
So, my grief will come and go throughout this life. I will allow it to teach me because, at its root, it is simply love.
They are enough
Chances are, for several reasons, I will never be the mother to a living child. At times, that knowledge aches so deeply it takes my breath. Some days, even still, I long to hold a baby of my own, to hear them laugh and cry, and to kiss their faces. I imagine how it might be to love and mother a living, breathing child of my own here in this lifetime and that imagining hurts.
And, finally, I have made my peace with being a mother without living children. I have learned to allow Grace and Lily to be enough.
They are my only children. I had them with me so very, very briefly. I miss them more than I could ever express.
But they are enough. Their time here was enough. My love is enough. My motherhood is enough. Our family is enough.
They are my Grace and my Lily. I am their mother. Always.