Validating Existence; validating loss
I wasn't prepared for March 22,2000. It came out of nowhere, blindsiding my sense of safety that I had been holding close like a protective facade, and left me in utter astonishment, confusion and, once again, grief. March made me angry; a little of it was directed toward God, but mostly it was directed toward myself. How could I have been so stupid? I thought. I should have stayed grounded. I should have stayed confident in what I knew-loss.
But I hadn't.
I had allowed myself the fantasy, the fleeting dream of possibility. I lied and told myself this time wouldbe different. The irony was that it was so different, and is so different, but not in the way I had hoped.
At 9 weeks our little baby had stopped growing, and I found myself faced, again, with the stark gray, every-so-painfully blank ultrasound screen. My fourth precious, lifeless baby in my womb.Looking back, I think I lingered on the brink of sanity for an hour or so. Apathetic laughs ventured from my lips before growing into anguished cries that I thought were over months before. I called my husband from the doctor's office to tell him he had to come so we could decide what to do. I truly couldn't think. How sad to only call your husband at work to tell him his child, your child, is dead...again. Even sadder when the news comes as expected rather than as a shock.
I thought I knew how to handle loss, knew what plans to needed to be made, knew what I wanted to do with this baby, but I found myself floundering, as if it was a situation with which I had no experience.
On April 28, 1998 I had given birth to stillborn twins, Emma and Noah. They were 19 weeks along. It was our first pregnancy, and although we knew there were problems, the issue of losing them never entered our minds. It happened so quickly that we had little time to even think. We were asked if we wanted to see them, touch them, hold them...we couldn't...it felt too hard. Thankfully a nurse knew we'd come to regret that decision and took pictures and placed their feet in ink leaving us with tiny footprints no larger than the tip of my pinky. People mourned with us, cried with us, and took care of us. 5 flower baskets, 75 cards. People had watched my stomach grow. They had watched me turn green with morning sickness. They had prayed with us when doctors reported unnerving news. They accepted the life within me as life and so they accepted our loss and grieved with us and for us.
On May 27,1999 our son Bailey had been stillborn at 37 weeks. On Monday his heart was beating strong; on Wednesday he was dead. This time we KNEW what we wanted to do. We took pictures of him and held him for hours. He met his grandparents. He was baptized and showered with love and then put in a tiny coffin and buried. 11 flower baskets, over 200 cards. People knew we had lost a son. They had felt his kicks. They accepted him as our child and so they accepted our loss and grieved with us and for us.
And then March 22,2000. Our fourth child. We'll never know its sex or the reason for its death. But we do know it was our child even though other people didn't. This time no one knew I was pregnant. We thought we were being cautious by not telling people until I was farther along. Caution like that only works if you don't lose your child. I went in for a D&C. When I came out of the anesthesia I realized I hadn't thought things through. I knew it was barely formed, but it was our baby, and I wanted to see it. I asked the nurse, but no...it was already gone.
I went home expecting to have people mourn with us, cry with us, take care of us. 1 flower basket. 4 cards. This time people hadn't seen my stomach grow; they had seen nothing. My pregancy had no validity for them. They hadn't even known my child existed and so they didn't know to grieve with us and for us.
I learned that an early loss is a loss in isolation, an unsupported loss that one must face mostly alone. Society needs to see, needs a specific timeline in order for them to offer solace and comfort. Nine weeks is not enough-for them. For me, one week, one day, one hour, one minute or second is enough to mourn the loss of my child, but even I had difficulty at first with how to acknowledge the death of a child who most weren't even aware had ever been.
I probably have it easier than most. I CAN talk about Emma, Noah, and Bailey, and talking about them allows me to include Little One. It's through my voice, not my appearance, that people know my fourth child existed.
For many women, you have no other losses. You have no validated grief to include your new grief in. Create your own space and make your child exist for others. Buy a locket with your child's name or date on it, buy a baby charm with the birthstone. Someone is bound to ask and then you'll be able to talk about your baby. Once you speak of them to one person, your child becomes a life, a real life, and therefore his/her death becomes a real loss to that person,too.
And with that, our grief becomes a shared burdern and burdens that are shared are...a little..easier to carry.
(For those of you struggling with pregnanacy loss at any time of pregnancy through early infant, there is support. Visit nationalshare.org for support groups near you. )