Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness.
It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.
The only cure for grief is to grieve.
- Earl Grollman
Today, October 15th, marks Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Begun in 1988, this is the 24th year that women (and some men!) across the world have come together, at least figuratively, to remember the loss of the tiny ones who made such huge impacts on our lives. This is the 24th year of the event, but only the 3rd year I have known about and participated in it.
October 2010 was the first time I had heard of this event. A friend posted about it, and, though I had not suffered a loss myself, I was dealing with something akin to this loss: the prospect of secondary infertility. For 16 months my husband and I had been trying to conceive our fourth child with no success. So, feeling a little something of the emptiness that I assumed grieving mothers must feel, I lit a candle that evening for the Wave of Light and kept it burning for the allotted hour, spending the time in quiet meditation.
my 2010 Wave of Light candle
That very night I had a dream. In the dream I was simply sitting and talking with my mother. Amid insignificant chatter, one moment in the dream struck me through the heart: my mother turned to me and said, "You are going to have a son." I was so startled by this statement that I woke up. Little did I know as I sat there in bed that night that just two days later, after so many months of negative results, I would receive great and exciting news: a positive test!
It was October 17, and I was so excited I literally bunny hopped through the house that morning to tell my husband the news! I posted on facebook and quickly had over 60 comments of congratulations! I had been due for my period on the 15th, but had waited a couple of days before testing, because I was so tired of getting negative tests when I was just one day late. So...I was 4 weeks and 2 days PREGNANT! My due date was June 26, 2011. It was a time of such joy, I could hardly contain my excitement, I was giddy like a schoolgirl! Our three older children were at that time 12 1/2, 8, and just turned 7. Finally, another baby!
Of course, the dream came back to me like a flash, and I knew it had been God's way of telling me that I was pregnant and that I was having a boy! Over the next couple of weeks, we tossed around a few names, but one was the favorite and was quickly settled on: Liam David. Liam means unwavering protector, and David means beloved.
13 days later, on October 30, I was helping my mom prepare for a Halloween party. I went to the bathroom, and saw a little blood when I wiped. Thinking I was just overdoing it, I did my best to take it easy the rest of the day. I had a little spotting the next day, Sunday, as well, but then for the whole week, Monday through Friday, that followed, none at all.
Saturday, November 6, the spotting returned. The next day the bleeding had gone from spotting to a full-on bleed, like a period. Part of me was panicking but part of me just kept telling myself that it would be OK, lots of women bled early on and everything was fine. When the bleeding was still pretty heavy and regular on Monday morning, I made an appointment and went in to see my obstetrician. She examined me. My cervix was still closed. They took some blood. I was scheduled to come in on Wednesday for an ultrasound to see what was going on with the baby. She said they couldn't know at that point if I was truly miscarrying or not, it could be a lot of things, the ultrasound would let us know for sure.
Tuesday morning, November 9, I woke up feeling strangely good. I had a huge burst of energy. By nine o'clock I had cleaned the whole house and baked cookies. We had begun our schoolwork for the day. My back was hurting from all the sudden activity and so I was stretched out on my bed with my seven year old son Jake beside me, helping him with his spelling work.
**Note: though not incredibly graphic, some people might not want to read the next section, as it is real and not pretty**
I shifted on the bed and felt a strange feeling of something large passing out of me. Keeping my cool, I told Jake I needed to go to the bathroom, and got up and walked across the hall to the main bathroom in the house. As I sat down, I heard something fall out into the toilet. Two pieces of blood clot mixed with tissue had come out. They were each maybe 1.5 - 2 inches across. Panic and disbelief began to rise up in me. We had friends staying with us at the time, and they were all in the living room, and not wanting to be so public, I took a towel from the closet, pulled the pieces out of the toilet and wrapped them in it, and went back to my bedroom. I told Jake to put his books away, that we were taking the rest of the day off from school, and to please bring me the phone. I went into our small master bathroom and sat back down.
I opened the door a crack to take the phone from Jake, called my husband Tony at work and told him that I needed him to come home right away, because I was pretty sure I was losing the baby right then. I don't even know how I got the words out, how I made my voice work. Within minutes, I felt something else pass out of me, and this time it was something truly heartbreaking. I pulled from the toilet a perfect little bubble of amniotic sac and fluid, and there inside, magnified by the fluid, was this perfect, perfect little baby. I could see his head, the dark spots that would one day be his eyes, the tiny little nubs that would be his arms and legs. He was curled up in that perfect, beautiful fetal position, my baby, my little boy....dead.
Tony came home. I cried on him for I don't even know how long. I had no words, only tears.
The hours and days that followed were chaotic and stressful. Within an hour of losing the baby, we discovered one of our cats (my favorite) dead in the garage. The next day, while I was vomiting and running a fever, our friends who were staying with us had their vehicle and all their possessions stolen from a parking lot. There were people in and out of our house. There was noise and mess and just constant activity. I didn't have time to grieve much in those first few days, there was always too much else going on, too much else that needed my attention. Looking back now, maybe its for the best. Perhaps the busyness kept me from disappearing too much inside myself.
The day after the loss, I went ahead in for my ultrasound, where the tech confirmed that everything had come out, and my uterus was empty. My doctor, a wonderful woman who has been with me since my very first pregnancy, offered words of sympathy and comfort. She told me to let myself cry, to let myself grieve, because this was my baby, just like if he had been fully grown and born and then died, and it was a loss, and I was normal to feel it that way.
About five weeks after the loss, we moved. Much as I loved our house, part of me was so glad to get away from it (we didn't move because of the loss, the move had been upcoming anyway). During the day that I lost the baby, there was so much blood, and the smell of it was so strong, that no matter how many times in the following weeks I scrubbed and bleached that tiny bathroom, every time I walked past it, I swore I could still smell that bloody smell. It was sickening. I was glad to leave that house, and that bathroom where such tragedy had occurred, behind.
It's been almost two years now, and it's taken me this long to truly be able to sort out my feelings and put them into words. This loss, it's so hard to describe. There are so many feelings that mix and collide.
Sorrow. Grief. Despair. Words people use all the time without really comprehending their meaning. I know I used to. Now I know what they truly mean. Emptiness, that's one of the overwhelming feelings. Just...utter emptiness. You are empty inside, literally and figuratively. There was a horror to it all for me as well, a disgusting sort of horror to think...this child had been dead inside me for a few days probably before he came out. To think that I had been going about my life, shopping, eating, watching TV, cleaning, laughing...all while my baby was dead inside me, what a terrible, horrifying thought.
In the couple of months following our loss, it seemed like every week another of my friends made the sad announcement that she, too, had lost a baby. One friend endured her 12th loss at 20 weeks, and I thought, oh, God, that's even worse than what I've been through, she had heard the heartbeat, felt the movements.... Another friend lost her very first baby just a few weeks into her pregnancy, and I thought, oh, God, the very first one, that's worse than my situation, at least I have the comfort of three children already.
Dozens of women, friends and family came forward over those months to tell me of losses they had experienced in the past, some of them years, decades earlier. I was shocked, amazed...some of these women I had known my entire life, and had never known they had experienced loss like this. It was one of those things you "just didn't talk about."
I thought a lot about my grandmother during the first few weeks. I did know about her losses. Four miscarriages and a stillbirth, plus two healthy babies. I wished she was still alive so I could talk to her. We had been so close when she was alive, and I knew that she would truly understand the way I was feeling.
One day, before we had moved, I was laying in bed trying so hard to shut my brain off so I could sleep, when something amazing happened. I slipped into a half-awake sort of state, and with my head buried under the covers, I seemed suddenly to be faced with a brilliant light, the kind that should blind you, but it didn't. Out from that light came my grandmother, and with her a young man, about 20 years old, with blue eyes and blonde curly hair. I knew somehow that this young man was my son, and that he was in heaven with my grandmother. I mean, I knew that anyway, that my baby was in heaven, but this vision was not of a baby, but a grown man. He bent forward toward me, looked at me with such love and care, and he said, "Don't worry about me. I'm just fine." My grandmother smiled at me with an understanding smile and nodded her head as if to say, "It's true." And then the vision faded. And for the first time in weeks, I slept a deep and peaceful sleep.
There are those who will call it corny or overdramatic or maybe a little crazy, but I truly believe what I saw that day was a vision from God. I believe that was my little Liam - not so little anymore - his soul in heaven. I believe God allowed me that glimpse as a comfort to me in a time of sorrow.
So, now, it's been almost two years. A lot has happened in those two years - a LOT! I lost Liam in November, in December we moved, in January - just two months (almost to the day) after the loss, I found out that I was pregnant again. Nine months later, September of 2011, our precious Andrew was born. Seven months after that, surprise! Pregnant again. Little Abigail Grace is due in January of 2013.
These two pregnancies have not been without their moments of fear. In each one, when I reached that seventh week, the same week I lost Liam, I have lived with a constant little gnawing fear in the background of my mind, a what-if, a controlled sort of panic that it just might happen again, and I have prayed over and over, God, please, I don't know if I could handle it another time.
I believe God has blessed us with these two babies, so miraculous after such a long time of infertility and our loss, in part as a way to help me grieve. I can't explain how it helps to have another baby, but it does. It keeps me from focusing too much on the pain and the loss because there is so much here and now to be thankful for.
On Memorial Day, when my mother and daughters and I go to put flowers on the graves of our loved ones, I have, for the last two years, put a little sprig of baby's breath next to the flowers at my grandmother's grave. Of course, Liam has no grave of his own, so I remember him here. I know my grandmother would understand and be glad to share a space and time of remembering with him. And I know that in heaven they are together looking down on me!
Yesterday as I was thinking about Liam in anticipation of today's remembrance, I found myself wishing I had something tangible to hold on to as a reminder of him. An idea came into my head which I quickly put into work: all of our children have had handmade quilts except Liam, he was gone so quickly there hadn't been time to make one, so last night after the other kids were settled in, I went out to my sewing room and spent a couple of hours making this:
It's just a tiny little quilt, about 16 by 20 inches, a memory quilt. It's for me of course, and not really for him, it's a piece of something to hold onto, something to cry into, just a physical representation here and now of a child I have to wait until I've grown old and passed out of this life to truly meet.
This post has taken me a long time to write. I keep having to stop and wipe my eyes. As I've written, seven o'clock has come round and I've paused to light my own candle for the Wave of Light.
The little figurine you can see next to the candle in the picture is one that my friend Brandy gave me the day I lost Liam. Some days it looks to me like a girl crying, her face hidden behind flowers. Some days it looks simply like a girl enjoying the beauty of life. I'm a lot like that. Most days I go about life and enjoy it, living and loving my husband and four (five!) beautiful children, but there are days when something triggers the memory, like just the other day as I was waiting for the lady to cut my fabric - fabric for Abby's quilt - and on the counter was a flyer for a fundraiser for a little boy named Liam. I forced myself to breathe slowly, in and out, in and out, til the moment passed. Sometimes it's the name, or a picture of a baby at that same gestation, or a mention of a loss, or a thousand and one little things that can trigger the sorrow to come washing back over me again. And in those moments, I want to hide my face behind something - like this girl's flowers, and cry.
It's a real loss, like my doctor said. It's something we should be able to talk about, not something we should have to keep locked up inside. These were our children, our babies, little lives that ended inside us before we had a chance to know them. Our grief is real, our sorrow true. Yes, life goes on, it must, but always we carry with us that little pocket of sadness. There is joy to know we will see them again some day, but for now we have to wait, and the waiting is heartbreaking at times.
In follow up, the friend I mentioned who lost her baby at 20 weeks, has since been blessed like me with one baby and another one on the way! The friend who lost her first baby now has a beautiful baby girl. God blesses us with more children as He comforts us in the loss of others.
For all my many friends and family members who have lost children so early on, we know a special secret loss that others cannot truly know. But we can lift each other up, for we share the loss. More importantly, God knows our pain - He lost His own son once, remember? - and gives us comfort in our darkest moments.
Our babies were a part of us, and without them we may never feel truly whole again. But the pain lessens, the moments of sorrow grow further apart, the tears refresh after awhile. We can rest in the knowledge that our little ones are safe in the arms of God and one day we will see them again. Until then, we press on the best we can, cry a little when we need to, hold the little ones we do have here a little tighter, and take comfort in each other, in our spouses, in our children, in God's peace.