10 Jul 2016
I’ve been trying to put this article into words for weeks.
Since the day in May when I held my beloved kitty cat in my arms as the vet gave her a shot to help her move from this earthly life into whatever lies next.
I expected letting her go to be difficult. I expected the grief and the heartache of saying goodbye and accepting the change in our relationship.
What I didn’t expect was to hold her body as her kitty spirit left and be instantly back in the moments and memories of holding my daughter’s tiny, still, and dead body. Memories of the utter joy of being her mother and holding her body close entwined with the raging grief of knowing these moments would be the only ones I would ever have with her in physical form. I didn’t expect to hold my fuzzy kitty cat and be back in that sensation and experience of cradling my precious baby.
I was reminded that this phrase came about for a reason. Because it’s true. Dead bodies have weight.
A live being – human or animal – has a lightness about them. We have weight but it’s a different weight. The living have an energy that has a certain lightness to it. But once that life energy leaves a body, there’s a density, a heaviness – a dead weight added to it.
Holding my daughter’s dead body was both the most joyful and the most painful experience of my life. Holding my cat as she left this world brought that experience back with utter clarity.
Death gives a density and a heaviness to our physical bodies.
Grief has a weight to it as well. It gives a weight, a heaviness to our emotional being. A weight laid on a heart that will always bear the scars and stitches of having loved so deeply and lost someone so beloved.
I think we notice the weight more in the beginning, when the grief is fresh and new in our broken and battered hearts. Over time, at least for me, I’ve stopped noticing that weight as much. I don’t think about it as often or feel the heaviness of it as fully as I once did. It’s just normal now.
There was a time when I cursed this weight, this grief that has so violently changed the landscape of my life and my heart.
But, honestly, until that day in May when I said goodbye to my sweet kitty, I hadn’t given that weight of grief and loss much conscious thought in a while. It is simply part of me, part of the person I am now.
Somewhere along the way on this journey of grief and life after loss, I stopped (mostly) cursing the extra weight I carry for the loss of those I love so deeply.
It’s like those moments of holding my daughter’s body – a bittersweet blend of joy and utter sorrow. Joy because that weight means that she lived and was so completely loved and sorrow because that weight also means she is gone and I will never know her the way I want to.
There is weight to grief because life and love matters. Those we love matter, however long or short their time with us might have been. We carry that weight because love matters and because we love, we grieve.
There is a weight to grief.
And while many days I have and probably will again curse it, I am also grateful to carry it.
I carry it because I loved.
I carry it because they lived. All those I have loved so deeply.
I carry it because it matters. They matter. Love matters.
When we die, our physical bodies become heavy. When we grieve, our hearts carry that weight of love and loss.
But it’s not dead weight.
It’s life weight. It’s love weight.
It’s those we love, carried with us until the day we lay our own bodies down.
22 Apr 2016
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 embraced the fact that I don’t have my children here to nurture and know in this physical world. I have 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 13 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 disregarded all these years.
However, this year, despite the fresh bruises on my heart from reminder of what I don’t have, I decided I wanted 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 10-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.
Also, treat yourself for Mother’s Day (or gift another mother like you) with the Invisible Mothers: When Loves Doesn’t Die book! Order here to snag $5 off!
07 Apr 2016
I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet baby. I know that the pain and grief and numbness and confusion you are feeling now seem unbearable and massive. Babies aren’t supposed to die. Yet here you are. Here we both are, for I like you, had to say goodbye far far far too soon.
I know there are no words I can say to fix this or take away your pain. I can’t wake you up from this terrible nightmare. I can’t fill your empty and aching arms. I can’t bring back your precious baby.
But I can say this: You did nothing wrong. You loved your baby and cared for them as fiercely and fully as any mother – and you are a mother, now and always. If anything in this world could overcome death, it would be the deep and powerful love of a parent for their child. You are the fiercest of warrior mamas, carrying love and grief in your very bones through life without your precious child.
You are not alone. There are many of us who are walking this journey of loss. When you are ready, we are here waiting to wrap you in love. We can’t bring them back to you any more than we could have brought our own babies back. We can, however, speak their name with you, remember their lives, honor your deep mother love, and stand with you as we hold each other up.
Big Hugs + So Much Love,
Mama to Grace and Lily
It’s here! You Are Not Alone: Love Letters from Loss Mom to Loss Mom is now available in print and ebook format!! A special book for grieving mamas from other grieving mamas who get it. You are not alone – we are with you.
17 Jan 2016
Not. At. All.
See, I have two daughters. They both died before birth. And, although I don’t really talk about it much because I’m not 100% sure, I’m pretty sure I had another very early miscarriage between my two daughters.
My body has never successfully brought a living child from my womb to my arms. She has failed all of my children and, it feels, me.
That is something that can really screw up one’s relationship with their body. I have found for myself, and for hundreds of other loss moms like me, our body’s failure to bring our babies safely to birth and life outside the womb feels like a betrayal and a failure. There is often a sense that there is something wrong with us or with our bodies that caused our babies to die.
I’ve felt like my body was punishing me.
Others have told me they felt like their womb was a war-zone or a death trap for their children.
This seems especially true if we don’t have any living babies – when we have no evidence at all that our bodies can successfully grow and birth a child into life outside the womb.
The world likes to tell us that a woman’s body is made to nurture and birth children and that we can trust it because it naturally knows how to do pregnancy and birth. That’s a wonderful idea, but what happens when it can’t or simply doesn’t for unknown reasons? What happens when our children repeatedly die within the womb that is supposed to nurture and protect them?
How does one love and trust their body after that?
It’s been 13 years since my first daughter died and more than 6 since my second daughter died as well. I still struggle with feeling like my body has failed me and betrayed me.
For the last couple years, however, I’ve been working on learning to love and trust my body again. It hasn’t been easy. My coach doesn’t like it when I talk about my body failing me or betraying me. She tries hard to understand, but that’s difficult for her. She has two beautiful, living, breathing and healthy sons, so her experience of her body and her body’s abilities is very different than mine. Her body has done what it was supposed to do – nurtured and birthed her children into life on Earth.
Still, my coach has been a huge support in helping me learn to be more loving and trusting with my body. To be accepting and kind to my body rather than resentful and angry. To take care of my body and nurture her rather than punish and abuse her. To listen to my body rather than ignore and reject her wisdom.
I wish I could say, “Here! I’ve figured it out! Here’s how you make peace with your body again and learn to love her.”
I can’t. I’m getting closer to figuring that out for myself, but I’m not quite there yet.
My default response is still to distrust her. I still struggle to feel completely sure of her ability to house me safely, to be healthy and strong even with my care of her. I have chosen to not try to have any more children because I don’t trust her ability to keep them safe.
I have, however, come a long, long way in the nearly 3 years I’ve been working on creating a better relationship with my body. I am significantly kinder, more compassionate, more nurturing, and more trusting of her than I was 3 years ago.
I listen to her more – she shares a lot of helpful information with me when I take the time to listen.
I nurture her more – feed her healthier foods, give her activity and movement, talk more kindly to her (usually), and am better about making sure she gets what she needs.
I accept her more – I’m not completely happy with her size or shape, but I am more accepting of her as she is. I lovingly refer to my stomach as my Buddha belly (because it makes me laugh and who can be angry with Buddha?) and appreciate the muscles that she so easily builds for me.
Forgiving her is a process. It is a process that has, and continues, to take time and attention. Not unlike forgiving loved ones who have deeply hurt us. Not entirely unlike grieving my children. It comes and goes in waves – some days I feel love and warmth toward my body, other days not so much.
Loving her and forgiving her is a choice I have to make every day. Every moment. Some days and moments I fail that this. Others I do it well. I like to think I’m getting better at it with that time and attention. I have hopes that one day, I’ll simply be able to love and trust this body of mine, easily and unconditionally.
I wish I could say that I’m the only one who struggles with this, because it isn’t a fun or easy thing to live with. Yet I know that I am not and that this is far, far more common than any of us want to imagine. Body love and acceptance after miscarriage and stillbirth is a challenge not often spoken of, even in the world of pregnancy and infant loss.
Talking about it often leads to others, usually folks with little to no experience of pregnancy loss, trying to make me feel better or to reason with me that my body still deserves trust and love and nurturing. It’s well intentioned, but unhelpful.
Believe me, I want to have a loving, trusting, supportive relationship with my body. I am working hard on creating that.
In the meantime, I wish others would just acknowledge that pain I feel of not having that. I only want you to acknowledge the grief and anger I feel toward her for not keeping my babies safe and protected. You don’t have to agree with me.
Let me be where I am and love me through that.
Love me until I can learn to love my body again.
Nurture me until I can learn to nurture my body again.
Accept me where I am until, someday, I’ll be able to say – and fully believe:
“My body did the best she could and I love her for that.”
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.