I Love You picTo my beautiful daughter,

I was thinking of you today.

But the truth is, there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of you. Although this world cannot see you, and I cannot touch or hold you in it, you are here. The beauty that is you walks beside me through life, loved with every beat of my heart.

I wish I could see you now – the beautiful, amazing, brilliant young woman you would be if you had lived. The heart of my heart who should be living and breathing beside me, but instead lives and breathes in my heart.

I wonder who you would be now.

How would you see the world?
What would light you with passion and joy?
What kind of person would you be?
What would you dream of?

Endless questions that will never have answers.

This I do know, my precious child.

You will always be mine. I will always be yours.

Your life was beautiful.

You changed my life. You made me more. For you, I will always strive to be more than I am now. I life more fully and more deeply because you lived.

Your life made a difference in this world. The world is better and brighter because you were.

And my beautiful, precious child, although I will always know grief for the loss of you, your true legacy is one of love. Brilliant, unrelenting love.

You are loved. Then, now, always.

I am so proud to be your mother.

Love,
Mama

cimg0260Someone I work with commented recently that she thought I was brave for choosing to work at the agency where we work together.

I don’t know about brave, but there is truth in the fact that the environment where we work is pretty much always painful for me to be in. See, I’m a mama without any living children. While my primary work is in supporting other grieving mamas and families, I also work at an agency that supports pregnant and parenting mamas finding their way through substance use and mental health challenges.

So, I spend many of my days surrounded by pregnant mothers or mothers and their living children. It’s not an ideal environment for a mother of dead babies.

It’s an environment full of constant reminders of the children I will never get to birth alive, never hear them cry or laugh, never watch them grow, and never know who they would have been. There are times when the sorrow of being in that environment feels unbearably heavy and raw.

This woman that I work with has asked me more than once why I have chosen to work in this place filled with painful reminders.

I haven’t really had a concrete answer for her. It would, probably, be easier to avoid being in environments like this – to avoid being around mothers and living children, to avoid painful reminders, and create a world in which I might be shielded from the constant exposure to a life I will never have with my children.

She thinks it’s brave that I choose not to avoid those things.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. One could probably just as easily say I’m a stubborn idiot to keep exposing myself to that pain. 🙂

Regardless, her question about why I choose to do the work I do has stuck with me. And I think I finally figured out my answer – an answer to why I do all the work I do with both grieving mothers and mothers with living children.

See, when my fiancé and my oldest daughter died, I did the avoidance thing. I ran from that grief and that pain so hard I nearly killed myself rather than face it. I lived for a lot of years trying so hard to avoid the pain of the losses I’d experienced that I existed in dark abyss of grief and depression.

Then when my second daughter died, I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to leave and be with the family that was already gone or I could choose to live.

I chose to live.

I chose to live and since, by nature, I am not someone who does things halfway, choosing to live meant choosing to embrace all of life – the pain, the grief, the joys, the sorrows. All of it.

Of course, I had no idea what the hell that meant. Or how to do it.

I fucked up a lot in those early years. I got lost in the darkness. I ran away from the pain. I struggled to find any light or joy or reason worth staying. A lot of days I gave up. Most days, the only thing that kept me trying was the promise I’d made to myself and my family to live. For them, I stubbornly kept fighting.

I remember the first time I felt joy after their deaths, real true joy.

It was my 30th birthday party – a silly, outrageous night of laughter and fun thrown for me by friends. It was that night that I realized those friends had become family.

That moment was the first moment I realized that I could hold both incredible joy and terrible sorrow at the same time. I would never have the family that I lost and they would always be missing from me, that was sorrow. However, I had created a family for myself full of love and support and celebration, that was joy.

Learning to hold both simultaneously is why I do the work that I do – the work with grieving mothers and the work with mothers of living children. Because I have discovered that life isn’t about joy or sorrow. Life has to be about both. Life is about embracing both.

I used to think that healing meant getting over the pain, having the grief end someday, or having that terrible ache of longing disappear.

It doesn’t. I will never stop longing for them.

Healing, and life, isn’t about getting rid of the pain. It’s about opening up enough to hold both life’s joys and life’s sorrows at the same time. Choosing to live and to embrace all of life means that I can go to work in a place where I am constantly reminded of the magnitude of what I have lost AND allow myself be there and feel the joy of holding a tiny, squishy newborn baby or watching a mother and child learn to navigate life together.

Because just as life is about holding both the joy and the sorrows together, so is motherhood. Mothering, of children living or dead, is about learning to embrace both the light and the dark, the challenges and the sweetness, the joys and the sorrows of loving your child.

I am a mother. I can’t mother my children here on earth, but I can be a mother of life.

That is the heart of the work all the work I do.

For my daughters. For me. For all the mothers living with the joys and the sorrows.

For life. For motherhood.

2010-04-16 06.30.17 copyI spend most of my days surrounded by mothers.

Pregnant 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.

 


Beauty+Life+You

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