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.

Love Doesn't DieI 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.

holiday griefYou’re about to see a grief counselor get very personal about grief.

Because it’s the holiday season and there’s nothing I have a love-hate relationship with more than the holidays.

On the one hand, I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite as I’m a gratitude fanatic. Plus, I have a lot of awesome memories of gathering with my mom’s side of the family and time with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins on Thanksgiving every year. I love Christmas as well – the festiveness, the twinkle lights, the smell of pine trees and general sense of celebration and connectedness.

Then there’s the other side of the holidays.

Grief.

The empty places at the table that should be filled by my fiancé, my children, friends and loved ones who have passed. And this year, my uncle and my grandpa. The gifts I’ll never buy. The gratitude I don’t get to say for experiences I don’t get to have like dressing my children up for Halloween or watching their excitement over the first snowfall or seeing them run to hug their grandparents or cousins or uncles.

The mixture of sweetness and pain that comes with the holiday season feels especially tender and raw this year. Perhaps it’s because both my uncle and my grandfather passed this year and won’t be here for the holidays. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been more open over this past year about the losses of my life and old, typically private grief has more outlets to arise.

It doesn’t matter why. It just is.

I spent a lot of years trying to believe that if I just ignored my grief and pain, if I could just push it away long enough, it would go away. That one day the tears would stop. That I would eventually stop looking for my daughters in all the children I meet. That I’d stop wondering what holiday traditions I might have made with the family I was just beginning to create. That one day I would stop seeing the empty spaces at the table.

I spent a lot of those years trying to avoid the holidays. Many years I avoided going to spend the holidays with the family still here with me and would instead volunteer to work. Other years I would try to pretend it was just another day and spend it at home alone. Sometimes I would join my family and try to pretend it was just another usual holiday and that nothing had changed for me.

None of that worked. I still cry for missing my loved ones. I still look for my girls in every child I see. I still wonder what traditions my little family would have created. I still see the empty spaces at the table.

Holidays continue to be both sweet and utterly painful at the same time.

And so I’ve learned and – am still learning – to allow both.

Allowing myself to enjoy the sweetness and the happy bits of this season of gratitude and celebration and connection and love. To savor the family and friends that remain here with me. To love twinkle lights and mashed potatoes and giving gifts and honoring the beauty this is my life today.

Allowing myself to acknowledge the pain. To cry the tears for the empty spaces at the table and for the little girls I never find in the faces of other children. To cry for the little family that never fully formed and the traditions that will never be created. To be open and honest about the pain, both new and old, that arises when the first Halloween costume that appears in the stores.

This season, I will sit with my clients, my family, my friends who also face this bittersweet mix of feelings. I will love them, hug them, and be inspired by them.

And I will let my family and my friends sit with me. I will let them love me and hug me and see me in ways I haven’t in the past.

Most importantly, I will sit with me. I will love me and nurture me and allow myself to be with me.

It’s the most and the best any of us can be or do, holidays or no holidays.

Let’s all be gentle and sweet with ourselves this holiday season.

mental temper tantrumsOne of my work activities is as an intensive in-home therapist. There are 19 of us in the office – 6 males, 12 other females, and me.

4 of those other females are pregnant. They are all roughly 20 – 24 weeks along at this point.

97% of the time I am absolutely happy and thrilled for them. I love hearing about how they’re doing, whether it’s a boy or girl, what names they are thinking of, watching the baby bumps growing and all that fun stuff.

The other 3%? Well, there is where I get sad and angry and a little jealous.

See, about 9 years ago, my daughter, Grace was born still at 21 weeks. And right about now, these beautiful women’s babies are passing 21 weeks healthy and growing and vibrant.

I didn’t put the connection together right away, between my random extreme moodiness in the office, these pregnancies, and Grace. I had a day last week where I was just feeling all out of sorts and, to be frank, was in a pisser of a mood.

I kept wavering between

a) Wanting everyone to leave me the hell alone (not an ideal feeling when you’re a therapist and also work within a team) and

b) Throwing a sort of mental temper tantrum (complete with metaphorical stomping of feet) wanting someone to magically notice something was up

Well, since by the end of the day neither one of these things had happened, I pulled myself out of my sulking long enough to ask myself,

“What is it that I want someone to give to me or do for me by noticing my out-of-sorts-ness?

My answer was simple.

Love.

I wanted to feel loved and cared for and nurtured.

At that point, I still didn’t recognize what was driving the out-of-sorts moodiness, sadness, and spurts of anger. I just knew I felt crappy and wanted to be loved.

I could have reached out to any number of friends and did I considered calling several of them. However, I also recognized that, sometimes, as important as it is to have people in our lives who support us and love us, it’s equally or even more important to be able to support and love ourselves.

So, I went home. I put on my comfy clothes, lit my favorite vanilla scented candles, started a fire in the woodstove, and made myself a good meal. I put in a DVD of one of my favorite funny shows and pulled out my journal.

Even though I had a dozen (or more) things I felt I should be doing for various work activities and responsibilities, I chose to take care of me. Even before I made the connection and realized what was coming up was a little unexpected grief, I made the choice to love myself.

And through loving myself, I was able to move through the sadness and anger and jealousy, and back into the 97% of happiness and excitement for my colleagues. I’m able to stay connected to that happiness for them even when moments of sadness have come up for me since that day.

It fascinates me how the process of grief shifts, changes, and evolves over time – through awareness, with various losses, and through our own growth. It shows up in a million different ways, in a million different degrees and levels.

Yet, the answer is always the same.

Love.

Love each other. Love ourselves. Love our way through it all.


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