She could have been anything.

Today I saw a post on Instagram, asking moms who have lost little ones what they wondered about the futures they could have had. Specifically, what they could have been if they had the chance to grow into adulthood.

And I thought about Aria, and what she could have been, which took me right back to the thoughts and conversations I often had during my pregnancy.

It was very important to me that she grew up to believe she had the ability to be absolutely anything she wanted to be. I worried constantly about making sure we never placed invisible borders around her.

We often called her a princess, simply because she was our girl, and we’ve got a huge love for Disney. But I remember thinking I didn’t want to call her that too much, just in case she wanted to be a knight instead. Or a doctor. Or a veterinarian. Or an Artist. I never wanted her to believe she had to fit into a mold. I even remember having a hormonal moment about baby dolls, because I was frustrated that all the ones in the store had blonde hair and blue eyes. I was infuriated. One thing I knew for sure, with me being Korean with dark hair and brown eyes, and my husband also having dark hair and brown eyes, was that Aria would have dark hair and brown eyes. I was terrified of her growing up in a world where the standard of beauty was something other than the race she was, and features she had. I grew up that way, and I didn’t want it for her.

I wanted her to look at the world and see endless opportunity. So being here, on this side of heaven, living life without Aria in my arms, it feels as if the world has lost so much. She could have been absolutely anything. She could have been a revolutionary research scientist. She could have been the author of the next great American novel. She could have been the inventor of a life saving medical device. She could have painted a portrait to rival the Mona Lisa. She could have been a mother, raising children who would change the world just as she did. She could have been anything, and now we’ll never know.

I suppose that is why we’re so dedicated to doing good things in her honor. I know she would have been a world changer, and I’ve got to try to accomplish some of it in honor of the legacy she would have left, if only she had the chance.

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“Do you ever wonder if that’s all we’re ever going to be?”

Brian and I were walking through the mall tonight after an overwhelming visit with our Reproductive Endocrinologist (aka our Infertility Doctor), and I saw an adorable shirt with the words, “Dog Mom” on it. I pointed the shirt out to Brian and he asked, “Do you ever wonder if that’s all we’re ever going to be?”

My heart initially sank, I didn’t want him to ever feel that way, but I had to admit that I knew exactly what he was feeling because I fear that every single day. I fear that all we’ll ever have is our babies in heaven and our dog. I guess in some ways I’m thankful. I am so grateful that I was chosen to be the one to carry my daughter, no matter how brief her life ended up being. I’m even grateful for the baby that we miscarried because for the short few weeks I carried that baby, I got to feel such an overwhelming hope and excitement that I hadn’t felt in such a long time. Then there’s our sweet four legged angel in a fur coat, who brings such a beautiful daily happiness into our home. I’m grateful for all of them, and the color they have added to our world.

But despite all that, there is fear in wondering if this is it for us. Never to hold another baby in our arms, never to know the sweet sound of our newborn’s first cry. So many hopes and dreams never coming to fruition.

Earlier today I was sure we would leave our RE’s office with answers, a solid plan, and lots of hope. Instead we left feeling uneasy and confused about our next steps. The hard thing is that when it comes to fertility treatments, nothing is guaranteed. You can spend thousands and still walk out of there empty handed. It’s beyond frustrating and completely unfair. Yet the thing that keeps pulling us back is the chance that it could work, and then of course it would all be worth it in the end.

But it’s nights like tonight that I am fearing if this is all we’ll ever be, and it is so very hard.

Loss after Loss

Miscarriage after infant loss is so hard. It’s messy, and the mixed emotions are endless.

When I first found out my hormone levels weren’t where they should be at the start of my second pregnancy, I was instantly worried this was a sign that something was very wrong with our baby. I wasn’t really thinking that this meant I would miscarry. I was afraid of a congenital defect, and going through what we experienced with Aria all over again.

Honestly, I never really thought this baby would die. I guess a part of me still assumed that this world wouldn’t be that cruel, and yet it was.

However, this loss feels very different. In some ways, it hurts less and in others it hurts more. It’s hard to compare the two losses.

After Aria, I didn’t return to work for 19 months. I just couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. When I miscarried, my loss was confirmed on a Saturday and I was back at work on Tuesday morning. (Thankfully, it was a holiday weekend.) I wasn’t really ready to come back to work then, but I also wasn’t ready to tell my coworkers about it so it felt easier to just resume as normal. Looking back, I should have taken time to process, grieve, and physically complete the miscarriage process before going back to work. It would have saved me some trauma.

My miscarriage also felt very isolating. During and immediately after Aria’s birth, I was surrounded by people who showered me with love and support. The staff at CHOP were absolutely wonderful. But when I miscarried at home, I had only my husband present, and my family who comforted from afar. They all did such a wonderful job supporting me, but it was vastly different from what I experienced with my first loss, and I wished multiple times that the support could have been more like my first.

Overall, I think one of the biggest hurdles for me post miscarriage is feeling like I can’t grieve. So many of the staff members at the hospital were shrugging me off as “just another miscarriage,” and acted like they were treating me for a common medical condition instead of the loss of my second child.

I think that after Aria, I felt like my grief was more socially acceptable. I held a child as she lived and breathed. I held her as her heart beat one final time. Then I had to let her body go. I picked a casket, funeral flowers, and a burial plot. I came home to an empty crib, unworn onesies, and toys that would never be needed. So of course, I was devastated. Anyone who heard my story could completely understand that I was absolutely broken by this. They expected that.

I didn’t feel like I was given that kind of space to grieve after my miscarriage. People just said they were sorry one time, told me miscarriage was common, then asked if we were going to try again.

But I’m devastated. The one thing I clung to after Aria was the hope of having another child. Not to replace Aria, but to fulfill the desire to parent a child on this earth. I don’t feel like I have that anymore. The doubt is so real this time around. Even after being told both losses were random and not expected to happen again, I don’t feel like I’ll ever get to bring a baby home. It’s hard to see the point in ever trying again. It almost feels easier to stop trying, and stop opening my heart, so it won’t keep breaking over and over again.

Going forward from here is very confusing. I don’t have a single idea of what my life is going to look like in the coming years. It’s scary. But I’m trying very hard to believe there is still so much good left for me to uncover.

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.