A sister in loss.

A few days ago, a woman came into my workplace to take care of some business with a coworker. We started to chat while she was waiting, and it was a typical conversation between strangers. You know; the weather, the news, our husbands, etc. Then she asked the question I was dreading from the moment our conversation began:

“Do you have kids?”

I panicked. This question is by far the hardest thing I am asked on a daily basis. I never know what to say, or how to say it. But on the other hand I’m grateful they ask because I do want to talk about my daughter. I just despise the way people often respond.

“I have a daughter, but she passed away about a year and a half ago.” I said shakily.

And then I stared at the floor and quickly cracked a joke about how I also have a dog, who I treat like she is my second child. Which is how I always follow up my answer to the “kid’s question”, because people are often quite visibly relieved when I change the subject. For the general public, talking about how my daughter died is just too uncomfortable for them to navigate.

But when I looked up, she stared at me with tears in her eyes, grabbed onto my hand and said, “I am so sorry. I lost my son right after he turned eighteen years old. I know your pain, and I’m sorry.”

I stood there for a moment, shell shocked. She caught me completely off guard. I had become so accustomed to people clamming up and quickly changing the subject when I explain that I am a bereaved mother. But this woman wouldn’t let me switch topics and gloss over my loss. Instead, she chose to open her heart and sit in this messy, emotional moment with me. Just like that, this woman who was a total stranger a few seconds ago had turned into a sister in grief.

“How old was she?” She asked.

“Only an hour old. She was very sick at birth.”

She blew a kiss towards heaven and said, “Oh, sweet baby girl” and put her hands over her heart. I could see the sincerity all over her face.

“How long has it been since your son passed away?” I asked.

“Eleven years. He died two weeks before he was supposed to graduate from high school.”

I told her I was very sorry, and we stood there for a few moments with our red and misty eyes locked onto each other. We then nodded in unison, and continued to go about our business.

The moment was brief, but I can’t tell you how much that conversation meant to me. The impact changed my entire day. I suddenly felt like I was no longer at work, but in a community where I belonged. A place where I was understood. For the first time in what feels like forever, someone was seeing me for me, and not the brave face I plaster on each morning. She saw the tears I was trying to blink away. She heard the subtle shake in my voice when I told her that my daughter had died. And she felt that same searing pain in her heart when she heard that I too had lost a child. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once, which is really the best way I know how to describe bereaved motherhood.

Even as I rocked on my knees, howling. I detected soft breathing behind the roaring. I leaned in, listened. It was the murmuring of ten million mothers, backward and forward, in time and right now, who had also lost children. They were lifting me, holding me. They had woven a net of their broken hearts, and they were keeping me safe there. I realized that one day I would take my rightful place as a link in this web, and I would hold my sister mothers when their children died. For now my only task was to grieve and be cradled in their love. – Mirabai Starr

Dreaming with a broken heart.

I know it’s a love song, but as Dreaming with a Broken Heart by John Mayer played on the radio today, it spoke directly to my soul. The lyrics feel so applicable to my whole journey with and after Aria. Especially the verses about the difficulty in waking up each day without her here, saying goodbye all at once, and wondering if she was ever even here at all.

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart,
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll out of bed and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe
Wondering was she really here
Is she standing in my room?
No, she’s not
‘Cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
When you’re dreaming with a broken heart,
The giving up is the hardest part
She takes you in with her crying eyes
Then all at once you have to say goodbye
Wondering, could you stay, my love?
Will you wake up by my side?
No, she can’t
‘Cause she’s gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
Now do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my hand?
Do I have to fall asleep with roses in my, roses in my hands?
Would you get them if I did?
No, you won’t
‘Cause you’re gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
When you’re dreaming with a broken heart,
The waking up is the hardest part.

Click here if you’d like to have a listen.

Entering Aria’s season for a second time.

In less than two weeks, it will be two years since I held the positive pregnancy test that changed my entire world in my hands. It’s crazy to think that at this time two years ago, Aria was already an embryo, a collection of cells multiplying at rapid speed. Already a tiny human, already so loved.

And this means we are about to enter what I often refer to as “Aria’s season.” The coming months are going to be extra hard I’m sure, just as they were last year. There are just so many memories and anniversaries. In the coming months I’ll find myself thinking, “On this day two years ago…” over and over again.

Thankfully, we still have a few months of blissful memories before the painful and crushing ones arrive; starting with November 19th (the day Aria was diagnosed with CCAM) and ending with January 2nd (the day Aria took her last breaths). But even the happy memories ache these days. The bitterness in knowing that our joyful moments of life with Aria were fleeting makes it hard to remember them as purely as they happened. I miss being able to feel that joy the most.

But I am still so grateful for that sweet little baby who was growing inside of me two years ago. She gave me so much in her twenty six weeks and three days on earth. She showed me what it truly felt like to give boundless love, and feel relentless joy. She was grace, she was hope, she was everything. This ache I carry every day is such a small price to pay for the privilege of being her mother.

I am doing my very best to enter this season with hope and purity in my heart but to be honest, it is proving to be quite a challenge. With the agony of it being so long since I held our daughter in my arms, and our current fertility struggles,
I’m feeling so overwhelmed and bitter. My heart wishes so much that everything could be different, and that Aria’s life here could have lasted longer than a season. If only, if only.

Searching for the end of our rainbow.

There’s a desire that often occurs when a woman loses a baby, no matter if it is an early first trimester loss, a stillbirth, or their baby died after birth. It is the desire to try again, to bring forth another life. To have a child you can birth alive, and raise for a lifetime.

It is such a huge topic of discussion in loss support groups. Mothers discuss when they should try again, and search for hopeful stories of women who conceived again immediately following their losses and had healthy babies.

Although there is some controversy about this term among loss parents, these babies born after a loss are often called “Rainbow Babies.” It is a term used to describe the hope they bring after the storm that follows the loss of a very loved child.

And this topic has always been hard for me.

The moment after I held Aria in my arms for the last time, I instantly felt a void that I needed to fill. What most people don’t understand is that my desire to have another baby wasn’t just because I wanted to get back to being a mom. Every hormone in my postpartum body was raging inside me, frantically trying to make sense of the disaster that had just occurred. Losing a child is not the natural order of things. My mothering instincts were never prepared for this moment. I just grew a child in my womb, and now she has been birthed, so my brain couldn’t understand why a child wasn’t in my arms. My breasts swelled so large I thought they might burst, and they ached as they carried a supply of milk that was no longer needed. As my milk leaked out of me, I wondered if it was the tears of my mothering spirit, for I could feel her grieving too.

But I am unlike the majority of mothers who have lost. You see, the day Aria was born I asked if I could try again right away. I was told, “absolutely not.” I was told my body needed time to heal. I was told that carrying such a sick child had serious complications and I needed to recover from them before I could become pregnant again. It was like daggers through my heart. It felt like I was being punished for choosing to continue Aria’s life despite her diagnosis. Even though I knew termination was never the right choice for us, it stung to know that if I had taken that path, I would have been able to try again almost immediately.

Anyone who has ever lost a baby knows the desire to have another right away, so I know I don’t have to explain it any further for them. And for those who haven’t, I simply hope they never will.

I painstakingly trudged through that next chapter of my life, waiting for the green light that would bring hope sweeping back into my life. I put on a smile and pretended I was perfectly patient when people asked “Are you going to try again soon?” Then I’d run off and cry, thinking how unfair it was that I couldn’t even live up to everyone’s expectations about how motherhood should look after a loss.

And finally, after many months of fear, I was cleared to carry another baby. My exam and blood work all came back perfect! I was healed and healthy. I nearly cried as the nurse told me my labs were normal. I remember going into the bottom of a drawer, where I kept a gift I had purchased nearly a year before, and holding it to my chest as tears of hope rolled down my cheeks. It was a gift that I had hoped to give to Brian when I became pregnant for the second time. And today, it still sits in the bottom of that drawer.

A few weeks ago, I finally went in for a doctors appointment I had been putting off for quite a while. I was afraid of being on the receiving end of more bad news, and I hoped that by assuming everything was fine, it would be. But it was time to be brave. I owed myself answers, even if they weren’t good ones. I have had several tests done, and am now impatiently awaiting the results. Those tests will determine our next steps. I could finally receive a diagnosis, in which case we may decide to begin our first round of fertility treatments. Or they could say nothing – which is almost the result I fear most. Sure it’s great to be told you’re healthy, but none of that explains the many roadblocks we have faced over the last three and a half years on our journey to parenthood. Sometimes no news is good news, and sometimes it’s just really really confusing.

Every day of the last eighteen months, the emotions of this entire process have weighed heavier and heavier on my heart. We’ve had so much time to dream about another child that we already have baby names picked. Both for a boy and a girl, and even back up names on the off chance it’s twins. I’ve got paint colors and nursery designs all dreamed up in my head. I even bought a sweet little onesie that says, “worth the wait”. I am so ready to be a mom again. I’m just waiting for it to finally be my turn.

But there’s fear. So much fear. What if we can’t get pregnant again? What if we do but not for a very long time? How will my heart find the strength to continue this journey? What if we get pregnant again but we lose that baby too? What if? What if? What if…

By now, you may be wondering why I’m sharing all of this so publicly. I certainly am. I have typed and deleted this post more times than I can count. I feel like it may border a bit on oversharing, as a lot of people don’t want to know all the details on how you conceived a baby. But I have held this part of my journey inside of me for eighteen months now. I never even felt brave enough to bring up the topic of trying again during all the months I spent in therapy. But I guess it’s true what they say about bottling things up, they explode at some point. So I guess this is me letting it out before I burst.

And well, a few prayers from those who are reading this would definitely be helpful too. Because one day, I want to think about me when I was six years old, pushing a baby doll in a stroller and telling everyone that all I wanted to be when I grew up is a mom, and know that little girl got her wish.

A post about feelings and being heard.

Your feelings are valid. Your feelings are valid. Your feelings are valid.

I don’t think the grieving hear that enough. Actually, I don’t think people in general hear that enough.

After my daughter’s passing, as I began to grieve the loss of my only child, I was constantly facing this belief that I needed to grieve in a way that was neat and tidy. It needed to be linear, and I needed to rise each day feeling better than the last. People began preaching platitudes about time healing all things, and telling me how important it was that I handled this gracefully.

After the first few months, I found myself feeling guilty for not improving each day. I would have days of great joy only to find myself incapable of getting out of bed the next day. This wasn’t the journey with grief people had been describing so I wondered, what was I doing wrong? I was also getting frustrated that instead of always walking on the bright side, I often turned to bitterness and anger. I didn’t want to be that kind of person, and I never had been in the past. I wanted desperately to change that, but I just couldn’t find the strength to move beyond it. The littlest things would send me into a tailspin, and well meaning but poorly worded comments would cause anger and resentment to well up inside of me. I felt so devoid of grace and I couldn’t stand it. I knew people weren’t intentionally trying to hurt me, so I tried really hard to suppress my anger but that only made it worse. I felt like I was constantly being forced to forgive people who weren’t even sorry, or were totally unaware of what they had put me through.

David Augsburger, an American author and theologian once said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” And the truth is that it wasn’t just the comments that were upsetting me, it was that I also felt like I couldn’t voice my feelings without someone misunderstanding or becoming defensive. I just wanted to be heard because it made me feel like people cared. It’s not that I didn’t know I was reacting in an extreme way, but I had also been through an extreme loss. It’s completely normal to want to fly off the handle over things that most people wouldn’t bat an eyelash over.

While time hasn’t healed my wounds, time has allowed me to become intimately familiar with my grief. I have developed such an understanding of it that carrying it no longer feels as heavy. So now when someone says something I don’t approve of, I analyze it. I ask myself if it is worth correcting, or if that would only create a bigger divide. I also think about where that person is coming from, and what they are walking through that may have caused them to be a little less understanding. If I can’t come to my own conclusion, I consult someone I trust who can talk through the situation with me. A lot of times, just being heard by someone is enough for me to extinguish the fire in my heart. There is immense healing power in being able to say, “This hurt me.” And for someone to simply respond with, “I understand.”

So I want you to know, your feelings are valid. Even when they are selfish. Even if they are tinged with jealousy. Even if they are mixed with wounds from decades prior. Even if they don’t fit the mold of grief that people are telling you to fill.

The important thing is what you do with those feelings. I encourage you to find a safe, and secure space to express those feelings where you won’t be judged or chastised. This blog, counseling, and confiding in friends and family have all been excellent ways for me to do that. They have helped me find appropriate responses to those feelings so that I could prevent them from continuing to weigh me down. Truthfully, I think that is something we all could benefit from, whether we are grieving or not.

Dreams

The other day Brian was helping me in the kitchen as I prepared dinner when he looked at me with glistening eyes and said, “What would she be doing now?” He didn’t have to specify who “she” was or what exactly he was asking, I already knew.

“She’d be talking. Not a whole lot. But several words by now I’m sure.”

“Would she be walking?” He asked.

“Walking? She’d probably be running by now.”

I watched the corners of his lips turn up just slightly, like his proud smile was some kind of secret he was trying to keep inside of him.

This pride we feel is an interesting thing, and not easily understood by those who have not been where we are. To think about all the growing and thriving she could be doing right now if things had been different brings so much mixed emotion. The most apparent and obvious are the negative ones, the pain, the longing. The ones that form tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart. But there’s a pride in imagining her growing up, and the joy that would have brought.

Sometimes, for the briefest of moments I pretend it was all different. I ignore the fact that she never came home from the hospital and let myself imagine what it would be like if she were racing around the house with our dog, Lana in tow. My ears fill with the symphony of tiny footsteps and excited squeals. I close my eyes and watch her black hair bounce in the air as she plays. Oh, it feels so good to imagine how those curls have grown since the day she was born. I sit there in that joy for just a moment. And then…

The weight of the world falls back onto my shoulders, and reality floods all my senses like a rising tide, washing all my dreams away.

But that imaginary joy, it still left its mark on me. A hope for what is to come. On that day when that little girl turns around and sees me standing at the gates of heaven. One sweet day.

Until then, I will do my best to thrive here. To build something beautiful from the wreckage that became my life nearly eighteen months ago. And I’ll dream, because no amount of anguish can take that from me.

I’ll dream about life on this earth. I’ll dream about growing old with my sweet husband. I’ll dream about having more babies. I’ll dream about having a farmhouse with a bountiful garden. I’ll dream about finally living next door to my best friend. I’ll dream about holidays surrounded by family.

But most of all, I’ll dream about her until I won’t have to dream at all.

Ten months of grief and love

Over the last ten months, my grief has transformed in countless ways. It has shaped and molded me. Grief has made me feel both incredibly uncomfortable and totally safe at the same time. It’s tough to explain, sometimes I crave the overwhelming agony of grief, and sometimes I just want to be rid of the heartache.

It is really hard not to equate the agony of my grief to the love I carry for Aria. I often feel the most assured in my worth as a mother when I am in complete despair. I suppose it is because I often wonder how I could possibly go on without someone I love this much. If I’m not crying, does that mean I don’t love as deeply as I thought? The rational part of my brain screams that isn’t true, but the part that has been scarred by grief still isn’t convinced.

Today, I’m feeling relief from a lot of the pain I have felt for the last ten months. I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest with you. It makes me feel numb, but only because I’m not accustomed to feeling so close to normal. I had gotten used to the intensity of grief. It had become my comfort zone. Strangely, moving through it is the thing that scares me most. I don’t want to move on, and I don’t want to forget the little girl who made me a mom.

I know a lot of this guilt and fear is connected to how distracted I have been for the last four weeks. I haven’t had as much time to saturate myself in Aria’s memory, and it makes me feel distant from her. But I know that just as I have many times before, I’ll relearn how to balance it all and find comfort once more.