I have to be honest. A part of me didn’t want to write today. Not on this day. But as my therapist would remind me, if I don’t do this today, I would regret it.
One year ago, on March 7, 2016, I gave birth to our two beautiful baby girls, Summer and Malia. To say that this past year went by quickly would be an understatement. As I sit here and write this, I honestly feel like my past and present are colliding or overlapping. On the one hand, I know that so much has happened in the last 365 days. And yet on the other hand, it also feels like no time has passed at all, like I’m right back in the hospital being told that I have no choice but to let my babies go. So to curb this “unstuck-in-time” feeling that I’ve been experiencing the last few days, I literally spent the majority of my day yesterday and the day before laying in bed distracting myself with Netflix. Just trying to forget.
But I can’t. I can’t forget. Not something this painful. Especially not my own daughters.
So to infuse meaning and hope in light of everything that has happened since I gave birth to my daughters and kissed them goodbye, I thought I would chronicle what this year of healing has looked like for me.
They say that after you lose a baby prematurely, your body heals way faster than your mind and your soul. I can testify to this. About three weeks after I had Summer and Malia, the soreness I experienced from my episiotomy had gone away, I had stopped producing milk, and I no longer had any postpartum bleeding. What I was left with was a larger lower abdomen from an expanded uterus, a linea nigra that was a constant reminder that I was once pregnant, and about 15 pounds of extra weight and wider hips that kept me from fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes. But none of these qualified as medical emergencies. For all intents and purposes, my body had virtually healed itself three weeks after it let my babies go.
Sleep and eating also didn’t seem to be problems for me. By some miracle, I was able to sleep after I got home from the hospital and I managed to keep somewhat of an appetite. Maybe I slept because I just didn’t want to be awake for it all. It wasn’t until a few months later that sleep became more of a struggle – falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up without feeling like everything is meaningless. Today, I would say that my sleep has, for the most part, returned to what it was before.
This one hasn’t been easy. A wife who loses her husband is called a widow. A child without its parents is an orphan. But I’m a mom without my daughters. What’s the word for that? I know of no word in the English language that accurately describes what I am (or what my husband is) in light of this loss, and that’s been pretty tough to deal with all on its own. I know who I am, but I also don’t. I’ve often thought that my husband and I can technically own the nouns Mom and Dad, but we certainly can’t own the verbs that go along with them. In other words, we’re technically parents, but we have no children to parent.
It hurts that all we have are technicalities.
What also hurts is knowing how close we were to realizing parenthood with our girls. All we needed were just a few more weeks to reach viability. Just a few more weeks until the doctors could actually step in to try to save them if anything happened. There’s nothing like being handed your baby knowing that they are sick and dying (for us this was Malia) and watching doctors and nurses standing idly by doing absolutely nothing to intervene. Nothing to make her breathe longer. Nothing to make her heart pound stronger. Maybe as a natural response to this, I oftentimes think of all the things I could have done differently during my pregnancy. I try to figure out what went wrong. I’ve wondered if it’s all my fault. What if I didn’t do enough? What if I could have prevented all of this? I dread knowing that I will have to live with this ache and emptiness – this feeling that “we-were-so-close“ – in my heart for the rest of my life.
I won’t lie. I’ve had some pretty dark days and seriously horrible thoughts. How can you not after going through something like this? One of my aunts recently told me about a friend of hers whose daughter just lost a pregnancy at five months just like I did and that this young woman essentially came out of it saying, “It’ll be okay. We’ll just try again and have another one.” She took something like two weeks off work before going back to her regular job. Hearing that made me feel so weak because I didn’t bounce back as quickly, but, at the same time, I also know that everyone is different. That woman is not me, and I am certainly not her.
Not many people outside of work and my close circle of friends and family know this, but I only just started going back to work after my birthday in January, which means it took me nine months before I felt like I could step back into the world. Nine months! It was my very own version of Eat, Pray, Love.
Believe me, there were moments (even in the hospital) after losing Summer and Malia when I considered diving right back into work to forget this whole thing ever happened. After all, it’s what I’ve done in the past to deal with other personal tragedies: bury myself in work. There’s nothing like a good distraction like work to make you feel supremely disconnected from whatever hell is going on in your personal life. This time was different, though. And I knew that. I think it was in the funeral home looking down at my daughters laying in their tiny little coffins, snuggled up to the stuffed animals my husband and I bought for them, that really solidified it for me that there was no way that I was ready to go back to my “normal” life. Not yet. I didn’t even know what “normal” looked like anymore. I needed time to figure things out, to learn to live my days without becoming frozen by flashbacks, to re-learn how to be present with people, to, frankly, care.
My husband and I have also had to learn to be very forgiving and understanding with people. To appreciate them even when they don’t know what to say. To hold back when they say something hurtful even though they don’t mean to be. (One person actually suggested to my husband that maybe it was because of some sin in his life that God allowed our daughters to be taken from us. Yeah.) To be understanding when people completely gloss over the subject, as if nothing happened. I’ll be honest: It sucks that we’ve had to be mindful of the things people say (and don’t say) to us. I guess that’s just the way it is when it comes to a loss of this kind.
For those who want to know, here are the comments/questions I’ve found to be most helpful:
- “What do you need?”
- “I am here for you.”
- “You have our love and support.”
- “I am thinking of you.”
- “I would like to know about your beautiful babies. Would you tell me about them?”
- “How are you doing?”
Some of the comments that have really hurt include:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “If it were me, I would have _______.”
- “You shouldn’t look at pictures of your babies; it will just keep you from moving on with your life.”
- “God has a plan for you.”
- “You’re still young; you’ll get pregnant again.”
- “You need to move on.”
Thank God for therapy. Going to therapy has been so immeasurably helpful for my healing. At my first postpartum appointment after having the babies, I was immediately referred to a counselor at Reproductive Mental Health. I saw a counselor for the first time in May 2016 and then quickly realized that I needed to be seeing someone more frequently than once a month. To my shock, this was all the time my counselor could afford to give me thanks to a horribly understaffed system. Eventually, I connected with a wonderful registered psychologist at the end of July 2016 and she has been my therapist ever since. I have seen her every week without fail for almost eight months (excluding vacations) and have to say that I honestly don’t know where I would be were it not for the counsel and help of this woman. To have another person to bear my soul to and to give me the tools to use to help me heal my mind and cope has, I believe, saved my life.
Family As Medicine
If you are ever going through hell, make sure that you are surrounded by an incredible family. These are people you need to cling on to for dear life when your world falls apart.
Ours has been a formidable group of relatives and friends who have cared for us by living with us, cooking for us, crying with us, checking in on us, and reminding us that there are still reasons to be alive here on earth and to smile.
A Spiritual Journey
Last June, I wrote a post about my thoughts on God’s role in all of this awfulness. To be completely honest, I’m still trying to figure all of that out. I have questions regarding the purpose and meaning and effectiveness of prayer. I wonder what God did or tried to do to save my daughters. I question the implications behind the Christian creed that “God has a plan“, especially when referring to His plan for us as individuals. Is His plan for each of us already settled and finished (meaning that we’re supposed to go through everything that we experience due to some higher reason or purpose), or is His plan for you and me fluid and always changing (meaning that God doesn’t know what will happen at every single moment in your life and mine)? There are, however, a few things that I have become certain of in the past year:
(1) Whatever I believe about God’s character and His work in this world and in my life personally must be interpreted in light of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ because He alone is the exact representation of who God is (John 14:9, Hebrews 1:3),
(2) Sometimes God doesn’t get His way, meaning that things can happen that go against His loving will (Genesis 3:6, Romans 3:23, Matthew 13:27-28), and
(3) God does not orchestrate evil, not being party to it in any way, shape, or form (1 John 4:8, Psalms 5:4, 1 John 1:5).
One last thing. Jesus Christ has never been more precious to me. Were it not for Jesus, I would have abandoned my faith on an empty road as I screamed at God from the depths of my soul one week after being sent home from the hospital. Jesus is honestly what/who makes the difference for me.
Honouring Our Girls
Instead of having a candle on top of a birthday cake, at 2:20 pm today, my husband and I lit the candle at the top of our babies’ urn to commemorate their birth. Over the weekend, we had family gathered in our home with a cake that said “With Love” instead of “Happy Birthday”. Every now and then, we buy a pair of orchids in memory of our daughters. I wear a necklace bearing their names and my husband wears a bracelet with their initials. At night, I sleep with two stuffed bunnies (something I haven’t done since I was a little girl) that my sister gave me to remember them by. None of these are much, but it’s all we can do here.
As I close this post, I’m reminded of the words I used to end my baby series last year.
I have no doubt that the road ahead will be difficult (it has already been filled with so many tears and crippling heartache), but I know that if my girls were still with me, they would want something better for me – something much better than living inside my grief. So, here I am, putting one foot in front of the other, still trying to get through this valley. I can’t fly over it and I can’t transport myself out of it; it’s just something I have to get through. And even though there has been so much darkness, I have a tenacious hope that there is light on the other side.
Oftentimes I catch myself remembering how my babies felt in my arms. The blankets they were in were so bulky, much too big for their little bodies. Though small, our girls were so perfect, even with their delicate skin and tiny features. They were our little miracles. And as I wrap my arms as if to hold my babies and close my eyes while I remember how it felt have them in my embrace, although ephemeral, sometimes – before that very tangible feeling vanishes into thin air – I can almost feel them again.
I miss you so much, my sweet angels. I promise that one day things will be made right and we’ll never be apart again. Mama loves you to the moon and back.
* This post was inspired by another fellow mama who recently lost her little one.
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