Grief

Breathe: A Short Story

BREATHE

The sea called her, the waves whispered her name.

“Come to us,” the water murmured, enchantment rich in its voice.

She stood there, poised, uncertain, ready to spring but held back by some unconscious pull.

It would be so simple to start walking forward and to keep going until she had no choice but to surrender. One step, one little step. She closed her eyes, concentrating on her feet, willing them to move. They remained stubbornly where they were, refusing her, disobeying her.

A wild, half-strangled sob escaped her. Is this what her grief had brought her to? Divided, torn, her heart burning within her yet also empty and hollow with loss. She longed to see him again, to hold his tiny, downy body in her hand, to again have the physical connection to her baby for which her body grieved.

He was only a breath away… An undrawn, suffocated breath away… A water-filled breath away… He was nearly in reach.

Sobs poured out of her now, choking her. She collapsed onto her knees, gasping and sobbing, clutching at the sand with desperate, shaking hands.

A voice, in her head, “I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you.”

“But you did,” she cried out, unheeding of any other people who might also be on the beach with her. “You did, you let him die!”

“I never left you. Even in your time of sorrow and disaster I was there with you.”

“But he died, he died! Don’t you understand? If you were there how could you let that happen? If you loved me at all, how could you do this?”

“Not even death can separate you from my love.”

“Not even death. You say that like death is nothing. How can you not care?”

“I died for you while you did not know me. I destroyed the power of the grave to steal forever. The sting of death has gone, and you can grieve with hope.”

At these words the woman’s sobs began to subside, though tears still ran down her cheeks, marking her face with the sorrow she carried within her. She thought of a bereavement card she and her husband had been given, in which someone had written, “We cry with you over the loss of your precious son. We pray continually that God will prove his faithfulness to you and that you will know what it means to grieve with hope in your heart.”

“With hope in my heart,” she whispered, remembering how that comment had struck her as a little insensitive, for at the time she was too deep in the well of grief to easily think of her son in heaven, too hurt to think of God without resentment.

“Look up,” said the quiet, clear voice.

She looked up and saw arching in the sky above her a vivid, glorious rainbow. As she gazed at it, peace began to trickle into her heart. She remembered, yes, even in the midst of the trauma of stillbirth, she had not been alone. She remembered the overwhelming sense that it had been a sacred, holy time. She remembered the joy that had overtaken her at the sight of her still, beautiful baby. She remembered being grateful that he was being spared suffering, pain and physical trauma. Grateful that he had gone from the safety of her womb to the wonder of heaven.

Faithful. That is what the rainbow was reminding her: God was faithful and he had not left her and he would not leave her. He would keep his promises.

Cruel, cruel trick of grief; Its relentless pull had made her forget the faithfulness of her father.

Contemplating the rainbow and all it symbolized for her, she let its beauty revive hope in her again. She let it remind her that she had something worth waiting for, even if it was going to be many decades.

Taking a deep, reviving breath, she turned and walked away from the murmuring, whispering water.

Short and Precious

In a world where people seem to be always searching for ways to prolong their lives, I have been learning to find preciousness in the very short lives of my children.

This November, I had the privilege to practice, yet again, the art of having hope and joy in adverse circumstances.

I found out I was pregnant on October 16th. I felt good, confident that this pregnancy would work. As per my normal approach, we told family soon, as well as several friends who I knew would support me and my husband in prayer. I anticipated needing support, because being pregnant after miscarriage, let alone stillbirth, is a complicated, scary thing.

On November 2nd we chose a name, Ariel Joy. Lion of God; Joy

November 4th, I went to hospital in an ambulance, experiencing heavy bleeding. My friend and pastor went with me. My husband, and later her husband too, met us at the hospital.

There were various tests and checks. The obstetrician’s eyes were flooded with compassion as he held my hand and confirmed that it was indeed a miscarriage. Ariel Joy had gone to live with her brothers, Jeremiah and Theodore John.

Among it all, I had unexplainable peace. To be truthful, I was very surprised to miscarry this baby. Things felt different this time, and I truly believed that I would be raising this child.

It has greatly helped me to already be sure that my first two children are safely and joyfully living in heaven. Ariel has joined my sons in their glorious home. She is not lost to me.

As I have said to one or two friends, “Ariel has moved from my womb into my heart.”

Ariel’s short life is precious to me and treasured by me. I look forward to the day when I get to hold her in my arms at last, to cradle her against me, to feel her warm breath on my neck.

Ariel’s life, like the lives of her brothers before her, is short and precious.

And God? He is good.

I Was Scared, Too

I had a comment from a friend today: “I finally looked at your blog. I was too scared to before.”

I totally get it.

I often feel that – not towards this blog (for obvious reasons), but towards other blogs and articles.

A title like “My Experience of Miscarriage” or “Seven Things Not to Say To Someone Who has Experienced a Stillbirth” can have a rather stressful affect on me. I don’t know what is written in the article. I don’t know if it will hit an extra raw part of me. Maybe it will just make my heartache intensify. Maybe it will just be annoying.

I also remember the fear I had of looking at Theodore the morning after I had birthed him. I remember I spent quite some time preparing myself and steeling myself. I didn’t know what to expect. Was he going to be shrivelled up? Grey or blue in colour? Would his cheeks have sunken in?

It was really quite stressful.

Then I finally looked at him. What a huge relief!

He was beautiful. More beautiful than I could have imagined. The purple tone his skin had when he was warm and just born had changed to a soft pink. He was still but looked so peaceful. He looked like he was sleeping.

I know other friends were nervous to look at him. Some have shared how they were so filled with fear that they were scared to look at him, but then they did see him, and their fear dissipated.

I remember how I was too nervous to kiss him, because I didn’t know what his cold, immature skin would feel like against my lips. When a friend visited, and cuddled him, and then kissed him before putting him back in the cooling crib (which was keeping his body cold so he wouldn’t deteriorate quickly), I was watching very closely to see her reaction. She gave me the courage I needed so I could be brave enough to kiss my very own and very loved baby. I wasn’t brave enough before.

It makes me cry so much to even write that. I feel perhaps I ought to be ashamed because I wasn’t brave enough, but the truth is I am not, because it isn’t something to be ashamed about. Sometimes things can just be too much, and we need someone to help us. I am relieved beyond measure that one of my friends was brave enough and could, unknowingly, give me the courage and strength I needed to do something so simple and also so incredibly profound. Without her, I may never have kissed my son, and I would likely be struggling with regret over it the rest of my life.

Because of my friend, I don’t have that. I have treasured memories and beautiful photographs instead.

So don’t think that I don’t understand if you have been afraid to read what I write, or if you were afraid to look at my tiny son. I do understand. And I am glad you found the strength you needed.

When Time Stood Still

This beautiful post was written by my husband. I am so glad he has shared this, as fathers of stillborn babies are so easily overlooked.

Have you ever experienced that moment in life where everything stops? That moment in between one heart beat and the next, where your whole life changes? Where life stops and time stands still?

It all happened about a year ago.

My wife had just finished giving birth to our beautiful little boy Theodore and at the very moment I laid eyes on him, the moment I held him: time stopped.

My heart exploded with love and then collapsed with pain and sorrow. He was so amazing, so beautiful, this was my boy; but he was not breathing, his heart was not pumping, he was still, as still as death.

Time stood still.

People came and went from our hospital room, meeting our little boy. But he could not meet them.

Time stood still.

We left the hospital. People coming and going, chatting and laughing; how has nothing changed? Does the world keep spinning?

Time stood still.

Back home at last. It is empty, there is no light, no chatter or laughter, there is no life. Our boy does not cry out, we do not hear him. All is silent.

Time stood still.

A small white coffin, a small plot of land, a small hole, our beautiful little son is lowered and buried. Why do we have to bury him? No one should have to bury their child.

Time stood still.

Assignments? Uni? Time passes around us. I stare at the blank screen. Why bother?

Time stood still.

Time has passed and slowly adjusted. I am no longer perpetually stuck in time, at the moment of my dead son’s birth.

However, there are still moments time stands still: when I see another father with his little boy(s), in the silent of the night, when no one is watching, when tears are shed. What would it have been like to play with them, teach them, love them and hold them tight, telling them that ‘I love you and always will’.

Inconsistent

One thing that I have noticed over the past several months is how inconsistent my emotions and thoughts can be. Sometimes I can feel two completely contradictory things at once, often towards the same person. And I think that is what a loss like this does.

I am happy for people who are pregnant, but also a bit angry and jealous of them too.

I want babies to be born alive and well and for people to be saved my grief, but something in me also wants to see people suffer in the same way I have.

I wonder, have I shocked you?

Even if you feel disturbed by this, you can’t fix it. There is nothing you can say to me that will change how this is right now. This is grief. It is processing. I even think it could be called progress.

Do I feel bad that sometimes I almost wish that someone else will have a stillbirth like me? Yes, but also no.

Yes, because that is a horrible thing to think. And deep down I don’t want that. It just hurts when you see others getting what was taken away from you.

But also no, because I recognise where that thought comes from. It comes from not wanting to be alone in this. To stop feeling like I am “the only one” this sort of thing happens to. To know beyond a doubt that someone else understands.

This is partly why I write this blog, to share how I feel, what this journey is like, and so I can present my situation to you in a way that invites acknowledgement and support. Because this is a long and often frustrating, confusing and lonely journey.

Even though I know I am probably doing better than the majority of bereaved mothers, I still struggle. I don’t cry everyday, but I do cry. I am not in despair or depressed or angry, but I am still healing.

I am grateful for every bit of support and love and encouragement I have been given.

Six Months

This time last year I was about two or three weeks away from finding out I was pregnant.

Had things gone well, I would have had a two and a half month old baby boy (and I would probably be trying to nap right now instead of writing a blog). However, it has been just over six months since Theodore John was born still at 23 weeks and 6 days.

In the six months since then, my husband and I have held a funeral, grieved (in completely different ways), and known the agony of getting a grave plaque only a few days after the due date – and the day before Christmas.

We have borne as kindly and as graciously as possible the news of friends’ pregnancies and the births of new babies. We have learnt how to share our journey without dominating conversations with our sorrow. We have learnt how to not let that same grief overshadow our home, too. We have learnt how to find joy and laughter in everything that offers it. We have learnt how to pin our hopes and expectations on something bigger than ourselves.

Losing a child certainly is not something you recover from quickly or easily, especially when it seems like every second friend is getting pregnant or celebrating over a newborn baby. There are reminders everywhere. Television shows, Facebook, Pinterest. Going to the hospital, the cinema, the supermarket. Even my favourite clothing store has a new maternity section now, and the changes in my own body are a daily reminder, should I care to notice them.

Yesterday I held the newborn baby of some friends, a big solid boy. And as I held him there was no glimmer of self pity or jealousy or anger. I was just happy that this baby had arrived and was living, breathing and scrunching up his mouth and nose while he napped in my arms.

Six months on, I think my husband and I are doing well.

Sugarcoated Reality

Warning: this is not a typical post about stillbirth. Some people may find it quite confronting. Still, I feel compelled to write it.

stillbirth1

Last night I read a book. At one stage in the book, a pet dog had a small litter of puppies. Out of the three puppies, one was dead. The author mentioned its little cold body, and I knew it was dead. Then the author used a phrase that hit me hard: “the stillborn puppy”.

After losing a baby, it is not easy when I unexpectedly encounter that word and last night was no different. I read that phrase, then re-read it. Then stared at the ceiling and whispered it.

And then I whispered the next thing. “Stillborn means dead. It means dead.”

As I lay there, staring, repeating, I felt like I was staring in the face of a cold, hard, awful truth.

We try to sugarcoat it. Born still sounds so much nicer than born dead. Born sleeping is a comforting phrase. But these words and phrases just disguise the truth. My baby was born dead. Theodore was not alive. His body was only warm because it had been in mine. He was perfect and real and beautiful. But he was not alive. He never drew breath or cried or soiled a nappy. He was dead.

He was perfect to me, even though he was not “too perfect for this world”. That is just another phrase that helps comfort a little.

But the truth is, I am not sad because he was too perfect. I am not grieving because he was born asleep and perfect and free from the troubles of this world. I am grieving because my baby is dead.

Theodore is dead and gone. I never saw him smile or sneeze. I never woke in the night to his cries. I never fed him or burped him. I never got the chance. Instead my husband and I buried our precious son and for Christmas we received a plaque for a grave instead of a newborn baby.

My baby is precious and missed and grieved. But not because he was “too perfect”. Not because he was born asleep. It is because he is gone. It is because his death while still in my womb took him. It is because he died before he had barely lived.

By all means, continue to use the words and phrases that help ease the pain. Just do not pretend they mean something other than what they really do.

Mothers who have not lost babies, remember this when you talk to someone who has. They did not “just” have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Their babies really did die. These mothers and fathers really are mourning a death. They are mourning a baby they did not get a chance to parent.

The words we use soften it, but the truth behind them is hard and unyielding. Yet, sometimes it helps to face that truth and acknowledge it. It helped me.

My Anchor Holds

I have a new necklace. A sparkly anchor pendant on a silver chain. It is my Theodore and Jeremiah necklace.

An anchor. Someone suggested it symbolised hope and strength, as that is typical symbolism for an anchor. Well it does. But it doesn’t.

One of the songs at Theodore’s funeral contained the words, “my anchor holds within the veil”.

The veil is, for me, a safe, calm place of peace and safety and – yes – hope and strength. It is a place where I cry out in pain and frustration and grief, where my tears are not lost or forgotten but counted and kept.

It is a place that remains stable and secure, even when everything else is uncertain and stressful and, occasionally,  grim. It is a place where my worry ebbs out and is replaced by peace.

It is a place I need.

Really, it is a place of trust. Trust that good will come from this bitter grief. Trust that from this sorrow something beautiful will grow and blossom and shine.

And as much as I need this place, I also need the reminder that it is there.

I need the reminder and the reassurance that I am safe and that I am not going to get disoriented and lost while I am on this bewildering journey.

This is what my Theodore and Jeremiah necklace does. Its presence reminds me, encourages me, comforts me and calms me.

My anchor holds within the veil.

Slowly

I am very slowly writing a big long post of our story of having a miscarriage and then a stillbirth.

Slowly seems to be the way to do things.

I cannot rush the healing that I need after losing two pregnancies. I should not try to rush the grief. It is usually wise for me not to dive into something new when I still have a lot of processing to do.

So “slowly” seems to be my new internal speed, even if my external actions seem the same as usual, because I do not want to rush this sacred time.

I do not want to push on through the feelings too fast. I do not want to bury them or push them aside. I want to work through this thing slowly, to make sure it gets properly healed. I want to squeeze every bit of preciousness and kindness and love and learning from it. I want to miss my children fully and I also want to be fully content and pleased that they are in a safe place where they are happy.

And slowly the days will tick by until I am there with them. And then this slow journey of waiting and trusting and of being patient will be complete.

Most Days

Most days, it is not too hard.

Now, nearly five months after Theodore was born still, I sometimes do not even think of him until something reminds me.

Like, seeing a picture of a baby or a young child. Or hearing the name. Or hearing of someone who is pregnant or who just had a baby. Or seeing the painting of his feet on the wall or the toys that were bought for him.

Daily things, really.

Sometimes the reminders are not too bad. Maybe a little sad. Occasionally relieved that my baby will not have to suffer through what another baby might.

Sometimes they hit so hard. Like suddenly you’re carrying a rock in your stomach and another on your heart. The heaviness and ache and pain and heart-brokenness of those moments cannot be understood by someone who has not experienced it.

Does that mean I have more understanding – that I “get” grief better?

No.

I do not know the pain of watching parents separate. I do not know the pain of losing a parent. I do not know what it is like to lose practically all my belongings in a housefire.

I can imagine, and I can sympathise, but I do not know.

The pain I know is the pain of losing children. Jeremiah was miscarried. Theodore was stillborn.

I know the pain of burying my baby. Of standing in a cemetery, looking at a plaque with my son’s name on it.

But, the pain is not constant. It is not all day, every day.

It is moments throughout my day, most days.