Missing Her

Last night I turned to my husband in tears and said, “Nobody misses her like I miss her.”

And I guess it makes sense that no one misses Aria like I do. I’m the only person in the entire world that was chosen to be her mother. I’m the only one who knows what it was like to carry her in my body. I’m the only one who knows the agony of feeling her kick as the doctors told us she was dying. I was the first one to kiss her sweet face. I was the last one to hold her when we said goodbye.

But that’s the injustice in loss. Even though the rational part of my brain gets it, my heart does not. My mama heart just wants her to be loved all over the world, in the exact same way that I love her. And I think maybe more people would love and miss her like I do if they had more time to get to know her, but tragedy stole that from us. No one was able to bond with her exactly the way Brian and I did while she was here.

Every time she’s not acknowledged it stings, maybe more now than ever. As time moves forward and people move forward, the grief gets more isolating and internal.

But there are those who do love and miss her. The loss of her wasn’t the same for them as it was for Brian and I, but Aria still left her mark on them. And I’m so grateful for them. I only wish we were all given more time.

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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.

Speaking up

At the beginning of my journey with grief, it was my mission to prove to people that there was so much more to my story than what meets the eye. I felt like I had lost my voice and my identity. Since society has created such a stigma around infant loss – I also felt like I had lost the ability to create my own narrative. People would look at my situation and say things like, “You’re young, you’ll have another child.” Or even, “At least it happened when she was a baby, before you really got to know her.” Someone once told me she wouldn’t tell anyone if she lost a baby because it seemed “attention grabby.” Everywhere I looked, people were getting it all wrong. I can’t tell you how unbelievably maddening that was.

Truthfully, I think that was the catalyst that ultimately led to me starting this blog. I needed an outlet, a place where I could share absolutely everything; in my own words, in my own time, in my own way. I needed to find my voice, then send it to as many corners of the world as I possibly could. I needed people to know what I knew to be true of my life, my daughter’s life, and of my grief. I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want attention. I wanted people to know this wasn’t just a failed pregnancy. My daughter wasn’t some defective fetus that we could just replace with another baby.

As I shared in my last post, we recently endured the loss of another baby. This time, loss reentered our lives in the form of a miscarriage. Our experience with my second pregnancy was very different from what we endured with Aria, and this loss occurred significantly earlier, but the devastation still remains.

At first I wasn’t sure if I would talk about my miscarriage. Even after being so public about the loss of our daughter, I wondered if this topic was too much to share. I didn’t want people to perceive me as some kind of repeat failure. I was afraid that everyone would hear my story and blame me for creating two babies that couldn’t stay. I was afraid they would find me at fault, despite the enormous efforts we gave both of these babies in an attempt to keep them. I guess that’s why only a handful of people even knew I was pregnant in the first place. I was so scared of telling the world we had lost once again.

Even after being so immersed in the pregnancy and infant loss community for nearly two years, I realized the stigma around loss still had a firm grip on me. So I’m speaking up about it.

I had a miscarriage.

For the second time, I walked into a hospital pregnant, and walked out with an empty womb and empty arms.

This has happened to me. But it does not define me. It does not make me less than. It does not negate my motherhood. I didn’t fail. I didn’t do anything wrong. It just happened. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But I will continue to survive, and thrive in the face of total devastation.

Because even now, against all odds, it is well with my soul.

Again.

“Get out of bed. Brush your teeth. Shower. Wash your face. Brush your hair. Eat. Drink some water.”

Several days ago I found myself at this point with grief, yet again. Getting back to the basics, constantly reminding myself that at the very least, I need to take care of my body each day.

I had been doing well considering everything we had been through. But tragedy brought me there once again.

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that we have miscarried our second baby.

We prayed so hard for this baby, and we fell madly in love during the short period of time that we had together. We let ourselves feel hope and joy we hadn’t felt in such a long time. Now we are feeling levels of grief we hadn’t felt in such a long time.

Yes, I will admit this loss is different than what we endured with Aria, but it is painful nonetheless.

I had written a few posts during our brief time with this little babe, and I’ll be sharing them in time. There aren’t as many of us who have felt the sting of loss twice, but I feel it’s important to be a voice in this community of those who have.

In the mean time, please pray for our hearts as we glue them back together for a second time.

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

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.