Mourning

Though it's going on six years since the birth and death of our first child, Genesis, I still find myself slowly digging down to the roots of my grief and sadness. Every time I think I've made significant progress, I come across stories like this one, of baby Zion born with Trisomy 18, or this one of baby Grayson born with anencephaly, and my grief splits open my insides all over again. And I've only just come to realize that it's not merely the reminder that life is precious, no one is guaranteed tomorrow, etc etc. It's because these parents knew ahead of time that their babies were going to die, and so they made a concerted effort to make the rest of their babies' lives the most joyous days possible.

And I wonder: did I cherish the tiny bit of time I had with my daughter?

Sometimes I seriously doubt it, and that's what hurts the most.

We didn't know ahead of time that she would definitely die. We knew it was a possibility, but from everything that we were told, we'd thought that at worst she would likely be born far too early and we'd end up with an astronomical NICU bill and then be able to take home a tiny, wriggling miracle of life. We thought it would be hard but that it would all be worth it in the end.

And so no preparations were made ahead of time. We waited with hope, with bated breath, for the day my squirming pink baby would be born and rushed to the NICU.

And then, it didn't turn out the way we'd hoped.

The day she was born started out with a sense of dread and just got worse from there. The whole day was encompassed in fear. I don't know how I breathed that day, honestly.

And then, when she was born, there were no joyful tears as she was lifted to my chest. Instead, there was silence from my baby as she was rushed across the room as the neonatologists attempted to put her on a ventilator. There was me, still pouring out birthing fluids and trying to deliver the placenta, tied to the birthing table by IVs and monitors and other medical accouterments, screaming to the ceiling, sobbing my heart and lungs out until I didn't think they existed anymore, my obstetrician holding my hand and weeping quietly next to me. There was my husband, walking back across the room from where he had been with our daughter and the doctors, with death and mourning etched into his features.

We had no Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photographer to capture in beautiful black and white our final moments with our child. We had no time to revel in giving her her very first bath. There were no cute photos with adorable first outfits, as the entire length of her life was spent wrapped in a too-big receiving blanket and our arms. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I held a dying baby that my heart had no room left for anything else.

From the moment of her birth, I grieved the loss of her.

Did I really ever celebrate her life?

She was with us for one hour forty-three minutes. That's it. That tiny sliver of time was all she had here on earth. And how was it spent?

Weeping over her body as she made every tiny attempt to use her under-developed lungs to suck in life.

So this is the reason I still grieve. I'm not sure I'm mourning the loss of her anymore. But rather I'm mourning the chance we had to celebrate her life while she was here.

Broken

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (among a host of other "months"). But this is the awareness that sits closest to my heart.

I have lost four babies, in varying stages of pregnancy.

I also have two living children. They are the absolute light of my life. They can drive me batty at times, it's true. But I absolutely love watching them grow and learn, testing their curiosity and their questions, learning how to use new words, figuring out how things work, and just the sheer wonder at nature. It's like everything is magical.

I love my family the way it is. Now that my son has just turned two, I feel like I'm finally starting to get a little bit of "me" back. I feel the haze of infancy and nursing 'round the clock and crazy hormones drifting away, and I am finding that I can think more clearly again, reason, use logic even, instead of using words like "thingy" for, well, everything.

But here is my dilemma. I feel I am at a crossroads. My husband and I had always intended to have at least three, maybe four, children. We technically have six, though only two of them are here with us. But the two we have would likely have joined their brothers and sisters had it not been for some extreme medical intervention. I had surgeries to keep my babies in, and surgeries to take my babies out. I was on bedrest. I was prodded for ultrasounds every two weeks during one pregnancy for at least half of the pregnancy. While my pregnancy with my son had the fewest complications, his birth had the most. I was quite literally traumatized. When you're strapped to a table shaking uncontrollably because your body is going into shock from loss of blood, and there's a blood transfusion waiting for you a few feet away, and the doctors tell you they're waiting to close you up until some specialists arrive because the tearing was so odd they want to make sure it's done right...and all the while, your husband has no idea why you're not out of surgery three hours later... You might be traumatized. Maybe.

Because of everything that happened during my son's birth, I've come to absolutely fear my body. I had already doubted its abilities, having lost three children (and nearly lost one) before he was born. But his birth sealed the deal: I was officially broken. Might as well just slap an "out of order" sign on my uterus. We're done. No way my body can handle any more of this.

Even though I felt this way, there's still this debate going on in my head. "Maybe we could have another. Maybe it would be healing. Maybe there's a chance..."

And then I think of life with an infant. And I kind of shudder. I don't know that I want to go through that again. And I especially don't know that I want to go through birth. Like, EVER again.

And yet, for some reason, I feel guilty for this, for wanting to be done.

I think the biggest thing is just feeling like my body is a failure. I couldn't have even gotten my two living children into the world by myself. I am just...broken. And I think that's what I'm having a hard time coming to terms with. That I'm broken, and I may not ever be "fixed" enough to actually have a kid "the right way." My experiences, sucky as they are, might be it. And that...just really sucks. Really.

So that's where I am right now. I don't mean this to be a downer post. I just need to process, and I want to be real. And I'm sure there's someone, somewhere out there who is in a similar place.

I'm just on this journey now to accept my broken pieces for what they are:

Pieces of me.

Not the whole of me.

A bit of a rambler

So I took Megan to Genna's grave again today. It was only the third time ever. I sometimes wonder if I'm doing her a service or a detriment by trying to explain to her about her sister who died before she got a chance to live. Although Megan is pretty quick on the uptake with a lot of things, I sometimes don't know how much her two-and-a-half-year-old brain really understands. Today she was more interested in looking at the flowers. But when I burst into tears, she gently asked me if I was sad. Yes, I told her. I am sad. But I couldn't explain to her the depth of what I was feeling as I stood in almost the same spot I was sitting in a little more than four years ago as my first daughter's tiny casket was lowered into the ground.
I remember my husband asking me if I wanted to leave before they covered the casket with earth. But I said no, I need this closure. And so I watched as shovel-full by shovel-full dirt was tossed onto the casket. I needed to see it, needed to hear the thunk of dirt and stones cascading over the tiny box, sealing my daughter's body in the earth. I needed it because I felt that maybe then I would stop hoping that it was a mistake, that suddenly she'd start breathing again and we could rush her back to the hospital and the ventilators would work. I needed to experience the burial.
And now that dirt, that earth, is covered with a soft layer of grass. And there are other babies in the plots surrounding Genna, and I mourn for them as well. Some have only one date on their marker, some lived for just over a year, and I lose my breath as I think what it would be like if I suddenly lost my nine-month-old son, or my bright-eyed, curious, handful of a daughter. What then?

But I can't think like that. I have them here, now, with me. And I have now to love them, lead them, experience life with them. Because in all honesty, I don't know how long I have with them. And whatever amount of time I have, I want it to be beautiful. And just...full.

Sad

Earlier today, I was sad, because I said that Genna would be 2 years old in May.

She would be 3.

Do you know how painful that is? To realize that you've forgotten things about your (dead) child?

Granted, she hasn't been with us, so I don't have the daily reminder of her growth and development to show me that, yes, she's a toddler.

But my baby girl would be a toddler right now. She would be almost pre-school age.

And I forgot.

I think a year of Genna's would-be life got swallowed up by the past year of Megan's actual life.

Because Megan is real. She is living, breathing, playing, walking, babbling.

Genna is a memory.

Sometimes

Sometimes I have to look at pictures of my first baby to remember that I ever had her. She was here so briefly, only one hour forty-three minutes. So short a time. And now I have Megan, who's edging ever closer to being a year old. She's a living, breathing, crawling, trying-to-stand-up-by-herself baby. And sometimes I forget that I had one before her. I look at the pictures of Genna and only then do I remember what it was like when her tiny fingers ever-so-slightly gripped around my "little" finger. Only then do I remember that I had to have the nurse take her away when I knew she wasn't with us anymore. Only then do I remember what it was like to see her tiny body cold in a casket.

And then I cry, not only because I miss her and wish I'd had the opportunity to raise her also. But because I so easily forget.

I mean, really, she's somewhere inside my soul, always. But not often on the surface of my awareness. She's like the faint whisper of a dream I had a long time ago.

But when I remember, she rises up in the forefront of my mind, and I see how I think she would look right now. She would be almost two and a half years old. But would she be walking, talking? What would her life be like had she survived? Sometimes, I shudder to think of it. Sometimes, I think she is better off where she is now - in the arms of Jesus.

But that doesn't change the fact that I miss her.

breakdown

"i'm pregnant."

two words
that can hold so much
joy
but yet so much
ammunition
when fired at you
unintentionally.

the questions come:

why not me?

i thought that
sex + ovulation day = baby?

why can fourteen-year-olds
have healthy pregnancies,
but my baby died?

why did my water break early?

why couldn't she wait just
a few more days?

why?
why?
why?
why?
why?

self-pity.
self-loathing for the fact that you're
not entirely happy.
guilt.
anger.
impatience.

warning:
nervous system overload.
shutting down in
three...
two...
one...

Holding God's Hand

On Tuesday, I went to a woman's house to buy a stroller for a friend (it was a surprise for her, that's why I'm only now writing about this). This woman was wonderful, and we shared a bit about ourselves. When she saw that I could navigate around a Peg Perego stroller like nobody's business, she asked me, naturally, "Wow! Do you have kids?"

How do you reply to this question when your only child, whom you barely had the chance to hold, is no longer with you?

In my case, it went something like this: "Nn--. Ye--. Well, sort of."

And then I felt guilty. For saying "sort of."

I shared with her my story of how our first baby girl, Genna, came early and her lungs weren't developed enough for her to survive outside the womb. How we had a very short hour and forty-three minutes with her.

I did not share with her, though, how guilty I feel. Because I believe that over the past four months, I have tried to forget.

I don't think this was intentional, necessarily. I think it was more a subconscious reaction to grief. I'm going to admit something: There have been many times over the past several months in which I have not thought about my daughter for several days at a time. Not consciously, at least.

It is difficult to go through something so heart-wrenching and be all put-back-together quickly. I think if that happens, something is wrong. But I think that I have had problems dealing with the how of the grieving process. Let me explain why.

I believe that my daughter is in heaven with Jesus right now. I believe she was the moment after she breathed her last. Which means that "she" (or rather, her soul) was no longer part of her body, which I was holding when she died. I believe that the tiny body that we buried in May is not my daughter. It is merely a shell, the housing for her soul, if you will.

Because of my faith, I logically know that she is in better hands, in the best place, really, that she could ever be. And logically, I know - have seen proof - that so much good has come about in the wake of her death. And for this I am so grateful. And I know that I will see her again...someday.

But the thing I'm having trouble with is the sadness. The mourning of the loss of a part of my husband and me that we will never get back in this life. The loss of the opportunity to raise my daughter. And I allow myself to feel that sadness sometimes, but then I feel guilty for feeling sad, because I feel like I am being selfish. And so I have had problems balancing how to grieve properly. I will have times where I can talk about Genna happily. And then I occasionally have moments, typically when I am by myself, where I just break down, I miss her so much. And I can't for the life of me find a balance.

But I think that maybe just allowing myself to feel whatever feelings come is the first step. And my biggest comfort has come in knowing that my God has experienced the same feelings before. When Jesus died on the cross, He and God were separated for a time. God had to look away because Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself. And when He died, God felt that loss. He grieved for a time, because He didn't have His Son with Him. He knows what I'm going through.

And the best part is that there was a happy ending to that story: Jesus is alive, and the separation was not permanent. God has His Son back, forever.

And one day, I will have my daughter back too. All I can do for now is hold God's hand.