28 Nov 2015
I tell myself I’m protecting my family and friends from my pain and my grief.
That’s not really true.
The truth is it’s really me I’m trying to protect. I’m afraid to show them this part of me. I’m afraid they won’t understand. I’m afraid they’ll judge me or think less of me for it. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m not spiritual enough. I am afraid they will think of me as weak.
I’m afraid of being told I should get over it.
The truth is my first thought every morning is of them. My last thought every night before I go to sleep is of them. I dream of them often and wake up crying when I realize, once again, they aren’t here and never will be.
I will never get over the absence of them in my life. They are part of me and I am part of them. Part of me will always reside with them, wherever they are beyond this physical world. Part of them will always reside here with me, unseen and unheard here in this physical world.
They are my daughters and I am missing every moment of the lives they should have lived with me.
Every birthday comes with no little girls to celebrate and watch grow another year older.
Every holiday passes with their seats empty at the table.
Every life milestone remains unachieved because there is no one here to accomplish them.
Every day I come home to an empty, quiet house.
Every wall remains bare of pictures and child-drawn art.
Every hug and every kiss never given because they are not here to give or receive them.
I don’t hate my life. I have made something beautiful and wonderful from it. I pulled my life out of the ruins of loss and crafted beauty from it.
My joy and happiness in my life don’t negate the deep and continuous longing for the children I never got to know.
The truth is my joy and my grief coexist simultaneously. They cannot be separated and one will never truly exist without the other.
My greatest joy is the life and love of my daughters.
My deepest sorrow is the death and loss of them.
Perhaps this cannot be understood unless it is lived. Many will be unable to understand. Many will likely say I should get over it and let go. I may very well be seen as less spiritual or evolved. Some may think less of me for the grief burns through my heart and flows from my eyes.
And maybe that’s ok.
I am proud to be Grace and Lily’s mother. They are the source and substance of my strength. I will long for them until the day I join them in whatever comes next. I will live my life filled with both joy and sorrow. I will live with both gratitude for their lives and grief for their deaths.
When I go to sleep tonight, my last thought will be of them.
When I awaken tomorrow, my first thought will be of them.
It will never be enough. I will always long for more.
But I will embrace it all, the joy and the sorrow, until I close my eyes and join them in whatever comes next.
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.
31 Mar 2015
To all my beautiful mothers who have lost their baby or babies, this is what I want you to know:
- You are allowed to grieve and mourn your baby, no matter the circumstances or how uncomfortable it makes others
- You are allowed to heal in your own unique way, regardless of whatever timelines or stages others try to place on you
- You are allowed to claim your title and role as mother
- You are allowed to honor your baby however you choose
- You are allowed to name your baby and count them as part of your family
- You are allowed to say NO to baby showers, birthday parties, holidays, and more to care for your needs
- You are allowed to let go of those who cannot or will not support you in the way you need
- You are allowed to remember and love your baby, always.
- You are allowed to talk about your baby, your birth story, and your pregnancy
- You are allowed to be the new you without apology
- You are allowed to feel however you feel and let that be ok
- You are allowed to do, say, and be whatever you need to do, say, or be on your journey
I also want you to remember:
- You deserve love and support for however long it takes to heal
- You deserve recognition and acknowledgement of your motherhood
- You deserved to be honored and celebrated as the mother you are
- You deserve comfort and kindness from those around you
- You deserve time and space to heal as you need to
- You deserve to be heard and to share your experience of motherhood and love
- You deserve to mourn the old you and your old life, without apology.
- You deserve to learn to love the new you and your new life, without apology or guilt
- You deserve to feel joy and peace and alive again
- You deserve to love, always
- You deserve to say YES to life again
- You deserve to both miss your baby and be happy again
29 Sep 2014
Over 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.
28 Aug 2014
I used to whisper her name to myself over and over again. “Grace. Grace. My Grace. Grace.” Her name was a lifeline that I desperately clung to through the waves of grief and pain and rage and sorrow that swamped me.
Her name was my manta. Grace. Her name carried me through months and years of silence and grief.
See, Grace was my daughter. Her father, my fiancé, died in a car accident before he even knew that I was pregnant and having her grow inside me was the light and hope that I held onto during those first heartbroken, grief-stricken months after his death.
Then Grace died too. Drifted away for no explainable reason to be born still and silent.
I was not unfamiliar with grief or death or even the death of babies. Despite my youth (I was still in college), I’d experienced the deaths of loved ones and friends and family. I knew that one of my aunts had had a daughter who was stillborn, though no one ever talked about that baby.
Nothing, nothing prepared me for the unfathomable pain of losing my partner and our child just months apart. It was like falling into an abyss so dark and black and deep I couldn’t imagine ever finding my way out. I lost myself in it.
I silenced myself as my daughter was silenced by death. To the world around me, I appeared as your average college student, though perhaps somewhat depressed and aloof. Inside, there was just her name repeated over and over and over to carry me through the dark caverns of grief.
Grace. Grace. Grace.
It took me more than 6 years to speak her name out loud to another person. Six years to share her life with another and to break my own silence. After her father died, I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone I was pregnant when I couldn’t tell the one person I wanted to – the man who was supposed to raise her and love her with me. I hid my pregnancy, and then I hid her death and my grief.
Saying Grace’s name to myself, helped me survive through years of grief and depression and pain. Saying her name out loud to someone else and breaking my silence, well, that helped me come alive again.
The truth is I wallowed in my grief and my silence for far too long. I clung to it, because I told myself it was the only way to hold onto my daughter. It was all I had left of her. I believed that if I let her go, let myself crawl out of that dark abyss, it would mean she would disappear and it would be like she never existed.
When I broke my silence and loosened my grip on my grief, I discovered that I could never truly lose Grace. Her body died and she never drew a breath in this world. I will never know the sound of her cry or her laughter or her voice. I will never see her grow and play and learn. I will always wonder who she might have been in this world.
But she, the beautiful bright light that lived in me, will never die.
Bodies, even those of babies, die. Love, though, love never dies. I still say her name at least once a day – sometimes just to myself and sometimes to others. It’s a sound of love now, a sound that brings me peace and joy and so much love.
So Grace lives, and I finally, truly live again too, because love never dies.