She speaks.

I was always a talker. As a child, my teachers were constantly moving me away from my friends in class because I could not stop socializing. I loved to share my experiences, and give my two cents in every discussion.

At 20 weeks pregnant our baby was diagnosed with a congenital defect but we expected her to be just fine. But as time went by, her condition became more and more severe. At 25 weeks pregnant, we learned our baby girl had become so sick, she likely wouldn’t be with us much longer. At that point, I began to lose my voice. I didn’t have the strength to tell anyone how bad her condition had become. I stopped corresponding with loved ones because speaking the words “Aria is terminal” was just too much to bear.

Aria passed in our arms shortly after her birth, and we only informed our immediate family. It’s not that we didn’t want to share her life with others, but admitting it to the world made our horrible situation seem more real.

Beyond that, I feared how people would react to our news. Would they judge me? Would they think I failed as a mother? I was so afraid of being picked apart by the world.

It took almost two weeks for us to feel ready to share the news that Aria had returned home, and even longer to explain why she couldn’t stay. Thankfully, my biggest fears did not come true, and we received an outpouring of love and support.

But during those first few weeks, I felt like I had lost my voice for the very first time. I wanted so badly to tell the world about my precious little girl, but the words just wouldn’t come.

So I started to write. I wrote it all. My emotions flowed freely through every single sentence.
Writing has healed so many of my wounds, and helped me to process many facets of my grief. Writing has freed me. I couldn’t stand feeling like I was being silenced. It was as if the tragedy that took Aria’s life was also taking my voice.

This is exactly why I have become so unapologetically outspoken about my daughter’s life, and all the little ones walking alongside her in heaven.

We matter, they matter, and our voices deserve to be heard.

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In one of those moods.

I’m not really sure where this post is going to go, and it is probably going to look more like a collection of ramblings than a well written post, but here goes.

I’m feeling a bit out of sync, not overly sad, but not content either. It’s the hardest emotion to describe, but very much like the feelings I talked about in my “Check In” post. I feel unmotivated, and I lack a lot of excitement for the future. Then there are times when the sadness lingers for so long that I actually begin to get sick of it, but that only aggravates it even more. There is still joy, but it’s never the same as it was before, and it takes a lot of work to find it.

I think what I’m getting at is… I’m tired.

Yep, I’ve successfully described it. The tears that are currently flowing are proof of that.

It’s so hard to spend each day fighting off the demons trying desperately to tear me down. Life constantly feels like a battlefield. There are mines everywhere, some of which I can spot from a distance, but most of them blow up in my face without warning.

And every single time, I force myself to get up and keep moving.

To be completely honest, I’m exhausted, my knees are weak, and my brain is fogged. I just wish I could be reunited with Aria, even if only for a few minutes, so I could take a break from all this grief. I need solace.

But I can’t give up. Aria wouldn’t want that, and I am the kind of mom that wants to spoil my little girl rotten – so she’s going to get what I know she wants. Which means I have no choice but to keep going.

Oh Lord, give me strength.

 

 

“I’m sorry, can you say that again?”

As I began my journey with grief, I fully expected to feel sad. I knew there would also be times when I felt anxious, angry, or depressed, but I didn’t anticipate how it would affect my brain.

The first time I noticed it was about six weeks after Aria’s birth. Brian and I decided to use shopping as a way to get out of the house. As I browsed through the racks of clothes, I suddenly felt like I had just woken up.

What am I doing in this store? I don’t remember walking in here. What am I even looking at? I looked at Brian, who was scrolling through his phone while standing next to me. He seemed normal, so I figured it was safe to assume I hadn’t done anything crazy in the last few minutes. I just couldn’t remember it. I chalked it up to forgetfulness or stress and went about my day.

I found these events kept happening as the weeks went by. I would lose tiny bits of time here and there. It was never an extended period of time, only three to five minutes, and it wasn’t threatening my safety in any way. I just went on autopilot as my mind tried to process the intense emotional trauma I experienced after losing my daughter. I didn’t do anything crazy, or stop dead in my tracks, I was just so focused on my wandering thoughts that I wasn’t focused on what I was doing – at all.

I kept it to myself for fear of being labeled or stigmatized. I didn’t want someone to tell me I needed medication, because I was coping just fine on my own.

And then it started affecting my marriage. My mind often wandered during conversations and I would often “wake up” in the middle of my husband’s sentence and have no idea what was going on. I tried playing it off, but I never had an appropriate response, so he just assumed I was ignoring him. He really resented that, and started feeling like I didn’t care to communicate with him. I realized I needed to figure out a solution because I didn’t want my husband to feel this way.

At my next counseling session, I brought it up with my therapist. She agreed it wasn’t so serious that I needed to be medicated, but that I had to let Brian in on this – so he understood where I was coming from.

Once I shared this with Brian, I could tell he was relieved. It felt like a weight off of my shoulders as well. Afterwards, I would look at Brian as soon as I had a “wake up” moment and tell him my mind had trailed off, and politely ask him to repeat himself. Sometimes it’s frustrating for him to backtrack like that, but at least we are communicating – Even if I check out for a moment.

Thankfully, those moments have slowly started to come to a stop and my mental clarity has gotten much better. I am so glad I decided to be honest with myself, and the people around me because otherwise I wouldn’t have found the tools to work through it.

Checking in: 5 and a half months later

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I tend to talk a lot about specific events, memories, and topics or thoughts related to life after infant loss. One thing I’ve realized that I don’t do very often is explain where I currently am in this journey. I wanted to give you a little more insight into my daily life, and how I’m processing things five and a half months after Aria’s passing.

This phase of my journey feels a lot more consistent, and slightly more predictable. The first few months post loss were filled with so many extremes. I was either immensely happy or completely consumed with sadness. There was no middle ground. It felt as if I woke up in a scorching dessert, and only few hours later, I would find myself in the middle of a blizzard. It wasn’t a very comfortable place to be in, and it was ever changing.

As time went on, I noticed the happier moments seemed to last a little longer, and the sadness became a little more manageable.

Then suddenly over the course of a week, all the joy I had built back into my life felt like it was completely ripped out from under me. This was triggered by a few things, but I think the icing on the cake was a bit of disappointing news we received from my doctor. The days that followed were some of the ugliest and darkest times of my life. For a moment, I completely stopped caring for myself and felt like I was back at square one. I totally fell apart and started shutting down.

It has been almost three weeks since then, and while rebuilding has been a very slow process, my life has started to return to equilibrium. I feel pretty steady, and sometimes that makes me feel a little numb because I had gotten so used to living with such extreme emotions. But now, instead of constantly switching between two extremes, there is a constant undercurrent of sadness that flows through me. It doesn’t necessarily negate all of my happy moments, but I can feel a slight bitterness in everything I do.

There are still overwhelming moments, and I cry almost every day. Yet I’ve found that those bursts of intensity aren’t completely debilitating like they once were. They seem to press the reset button and provide me with a small surge of strength.

I know I still need to work on interacting with the world a little more – I spend a bit too much time in solitude. But I am also attempting to overcome a lot of anxiety, while still guarding my heart. It’s ok to put a little distance between myself and potentially difficult situations, but I’m also constantly challenging myself to overcome something every day. Baby steps (or Aria steps as we often call them) are the key to moving forward without getting too discouraged.

Overall though, I would say the process of mending this broken heart is underway. Yes, I’m still deeply hurt by the loss of my daughter and always will be, but I am still happy in a lot of ways. There aren’t many words to accurately describe this place I’m in, so it’s a little hard to fully explain. This process is so fluid, and impossible to put into a few simple words. However, If I had to simplify it all, I guess I would say that I’m doing well, just not all the way.

I will also say this – I love and miss my sweet girl more and more each day. That is one thing that has only grown in intensity, and always will.

Finally, before I end this post I would like to say a quick thank you to my sweet friends, who got me out of the house this week for lots of laughs and good times. But most of all – for always letting me talk about Aria and reminding me that I am more than enough. It means so much more than you know.

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The mystical (and nonexistent) band aid called time.

As the days, weeks, and months have gone by, I have begun to sense a false belief that every passing second is creating a pathway for us to get over the loss of our daughter. There is an expectation that the magical band aid of time is making us better, and bringing us out of the darkness.

To a certain extent, I get it. How many times have you heard the phrase “time heals all wounds?” But here’s the thing – time heals broken bones, not broken hearts. Depending on my mood, there are times when I actually take offense to that well meaning phrase. You see, I’m not just sitting here patiently waiting for time to heal me.

I am healing me.

Grief is an active process. I am grieving with every cell in my body. I don’t run from my thoughts and emotions. I allow myself to spend hours sobbing on the floor of my daughter’s empty nursery. I frequently find myself running to the nearest restroom seeking refuge, and a place to shed a few tears in the middle of my day. I think about my daughter as I sift through apples at the grocery store. I think of her as I catch a glimpse of other moms pushing their babies in shopping carts at Target. I am constantly allowing myself to remember her, and process it all.

Many people in the “time heals all” camp often encourage me not to think about it, and to completely avoid the painful thoughts. This is because they operate under the assumption that one day I will wake up and it won’t hurt so much. But honestly, that is terrible advice. Ignoring your wounds only makes them worse. Most will agree that it isn’t healthy to bottle things up when it comes to anger, but the same is also true for grief. Attempting to avoid dealing with the pain only makes it worse, just as ignoring a literal wound would likely lead to infection.

You have to honor the process of grief. You cannot rush it by restricting it to a certain span of time. The truth is, no matter how hard you try to say that you are done, and time alone has healed you, you will end up dealing with it at sometime or another. There comes a point when those pent up emotions will become so destructive, and all consuming that you no longer posses the power to ignore them. This is how grief finds a way to swallow you whole without warning, years after the fact. If left untouched, time has the ability to completely destroy your wounds.

However, I do think there are still moments when it’s appropriate to postpone your grief. One really good example is the workplace. I know breaking down in the middle of a staff meeting is certainly not my idea of a good moment to grieve. It’s fine to tell those thoughts to come back later, once you are in a place where you feel comfortable embracing them. But that is the key here – you have to come back and process it.

There are also moments when I have said not now because I am desperately trying to find joy again. Sometimes, I have to allow myself to relish in the brief moments of peace, so I can recharge and build my strength. There is a very delicate balance between grief and joy that is a vital part of this process.

But having said all of this, it is important to admit that there will never be complete healing. Wounds of this magnitude tend to leave behind many scars and weak spots. For a while, I really resented that. I wanted to be made whole again so I could go back to being the person I used to be. On the other hand, this everlasting ache for what will never be stems from an undying love for my child. I am so deeply affected by her passing because I am her mother, and no one else on the face of this planet shares this specific bond with her. That is something worth embracing.

The bottom line is this: Although time has passed, and I have begun to heal within that time, the catalyst for healing is not found in time itself. It is found by allowing the process of grief to mold me.

As toilsome as it may be, the jagged rocks and relentless waves will guide you to where you need to be.

**I wanted to add a little disclaimer because I know the grief process is very unique and different for everyone. This post is written with knowledge I have gained from my own process and from speaking with others. I hope it encourages and helps you as you navigate the waters of grief, but I understand that these words may not be true of everyone. I wish all of you the very best in your journey through life.

 

 

Saying goodbye to his little girl: A father’s love in pictures

This coming Father’s Day is the first for my husband, Brian. With all of my heart, I wish it were drastically different for him, and that our daughter was here to celebrate with us. I wish she could finger paint a Father’s Day card, and help me make him pancakes for breakfast. I wish he could walk along the beach holding hands with the little girl who made him a Dad. As much as my heart aches, I want to celebrate my husband this Father’s Day. I want to honor the beautiful connection he shares with our daughter. I want the world to know that death does not negate his role as a father.

I took a photo of Brian kissing my belly just before our daughter’s birth, and a few photos of him with our little girl shortly after. Aria Noelle Rose was with us for a little over an hour, then quietly passed in my arms. I took these images as Brian said goodbye, not because I wanted to remember the pain, but because the love in his eyes was incredible. He cared for our little girl with every ounce of his soul. For me, the emotion in those images are the very definition of fatherly love.

He has granted me permission to share these images with all of you. They are very personal, and raw. I ask that you view them with the utmost respect for his vulnerability in these moments.

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Our hope in sharing these images is that they help break down the stereotype that men do not grieve as much as women. We want to send the message that there is no shame in grieving, breaking down, and crying.

If you know a bereaved father, please reach out to them this Father’s Day. Let them know you are thinking of them, and their child has not been forgotten. Our society too often neglects bereaved fathers. Many men walk a very difficult path after loss, because they don’t feel they are allowed to be as open with their feelings. There are also far less opportunities for grief support for men than women. If there is one thing Brian and I want you to take away from this post, it is that fathers grieve too.

To every bereaved father, It is our hope that you are able to find a way to celebrate on Father’s Day – no matter how small. You are an incredible Dad, and you deserve recognition.

Fatherhood, from the very beginning. (A wife’s perspective)

With Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I have started thinking a lot about fatherhood, especially as it pertains to bereaved fathers like my husband. A few days ago I recalled a phrase I’ve heard several times through the years.

“A woman becomes a mother when she learns she is pregnant, but a man doesn’t become a father until he holds his child for the first time.”

You know, I really hate that phrase. I’m not a father, but it even feels like a slap in the face to me. It’s so dismissive, and really belittles the incredible connection that men share with their unborn children. This is the very reason men have such a difficult time understanding their emotions while grieving the loss of a baby, whether it happens early in pregnancy or shortly after birth.

Let me tell you this, my husband became a father the moment he learned I was pregnant. His journey began when our daughter was the size of a sesame seed. I can say this with great confidence because I have walked this path alongside him every single day of our daughter’s brief life, and beyond.

When I was just five weeks pregnant with Aria, our doctors warned us that our pregnancy may not be viable. They couldn’t find a heartbeat, or any evidence of a baby inside the gestational sac. My hormone levels, and the date of my last menstrual cycle led them to believe I should have been far enough along to see much more development than that. After a week and a half of worry, Aria finally allowed us to see a glimpse of her on the ultrasound, and her rapidly beating heart.

But while we were in that limbo period, waiting to find out if I had miscarried or not, I watched my husband behave exactly as a father would. He drove home from that doctor’s appointment with tears streaming down his face. He was already in love with our child, and we had only known I was pregnant for a week. The thought of losing this baby was devastating to him. In that moment, to tell him he wasn’t actually a father would have been grossly inaccurate. He had never met our child, he didn’t know if we were expecting a boy or a girl, and he didn’t even know if this baby was going to survive – but he was a father.

He fathered our daughter throughout my entire pregnancy. He took care of me as I battled horrendous bouts of morning sickness, and fetched whatever food I could stomach at the moment without a single complaint. He enthusiastically helped me assemble her nursery furniture, and even made a shopping trip to Babies-R-Us on his own. He spoke sweetly to my belly, and loved feeling her little kicks. He prayed for her, planned for her, and hoped for her from the very beginning.

When our daughter was diagnosed with CCAM at our anatomy scan, he stood bravely beside us. He went to every single high risk appointment, which involved two hours of driving once (and sometimes twice) a week, and a lot of time away from work. I never once asked him to do that. In fact, I told him not to worry about it every. single. time. But he felt very strongly that Aria needed him, so he was going to be there. That, my friends, is what a father does.

By the time Brian held Aria in his arms for the very first time, he had already been a father for months.

And let me tell you one more thing about fatherhood, it does not end.

He did not stop being Aria’s father when she took her last breaths. He did not relinquish that bond when her heart beat for the very last time. In fact, his love for Aria has grown exponentially, and completely transformed since she left this world. He is still her father, and he still fathers her – no, not in the typical way, but in a way that is unseen to the naked eye. He is fiercely protective of her memory, and constantly searching for ways to grow her legacy.

He is Aria’s father – he has been from the moment she was conceived, and always will be.

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Brian after setting up Aria’s crib – November 10, 2015