This morning, as I was baking a cake and doling out spoonfuls of batter to eager little mouths and orchestrating a silly celebration for my younger daughter’s half-birthday, millions of other women were marking this day with much less joyous memories. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and the entire month of October is dedicated to bringing awareness to the small souls we never got a chance to fully know and the mothers who bravely carried them.
The scene in my house during a chilly October eight years ago was a very different one. Quiet sadness filled the air, rooms were blatantly devoid of the sweet sound of children’s voices, and tears flowed freely instead of laughter. This was when I became a statistic, one in four women, yet felt individually broken and completely alone. This was when we lost our first baby and all my hopes and dreams seemed shattered.
My pregnancy loss is not something I’ve talked about publicly, and have scarcely talked about privately, even with my closest family and friends. I’ve hinted and alluded to it, but I’ve never been able to find the words to fully discuss it. I’ve never known how to expose that tender part of my soul that will forever be marked by a missing piece.
How do I find the words to describe the hope and joy I unwittingly carried with me across shining seas? A beautifully surprising souvenir from our honeymoon, a perfect reminder of that journey of love. How can I tell of the excitement and uncertainty we felt as we glimpsed how our lives and our family would change? There is no way to describe the deep sense of fulfillment that resided within me alongside the hope of this infinitely wished-for child. A lifelong dream pictured upon an ultrasound screen.
Do I reveal how I raced to the store and bought a red stroller, on a whim, before my belly showed the slightest swell? Do I tell you how foolishly in love I was with this tiny being inside of me? Do I mention plans that were changed for months in advance as we anticipated the impending arrival of this baby? Do I dare admit how oblivious I was to the fragility of this growing ball of joy that already filled my whole heart?
These are the easy parts. These are the good, if difficult memories.
What I don’t want to remember is how it all came crashing down. Sitting in an ultrasound room as the doctor told us things didn’t look as they should. The pounding of my own solitary heart as it drowned out the rest of his words. Choices, none of them good, all of them physically and emotionally painful. Waiting, for my body to rise and fall and flow like ocean waves crashing against jagged rocks. A harsh reckoning with reality that left me empty.
The tidal wave of emotions and self-doubt that came in the wake of this loss knocked me off my feet. Voices swirled within: “What is wrong with me that I can’t accomplish this one thing I was made for?”, “What if this is it, what if childlessness is my destiny?”, “A part of me is missing.” And even the sinister whisper, “You shouldn’t be feeling this upset, it was a mere few weeks, barely enough to consider a life.” Platitudes poured in from others, reassurances that felt like thoughtless daggers: “At least you know you can get pregnant,” “At least you weren’t that far along,” “At least you’re young and can try again.” There were no right words. There still aren’t.
There aren’t the words to describe how my self-worth and sense of self slowly slipped away over those cold months following my loss. There aren’t the words to tell how bad habits and painful patterns crept in and nearly overtook me. There aren’t the words to describe how my brand new marriage, shining with hope just a few months before, became a tattered rag, barely holding on by a thread. In losing that baby, I nearly lost everything.
For those who have not gone through it, the loss of an unborn child is impossible to explain. It can be silent and shameful. The burden of grief can feel heavier than anything you could have imagined, yet illusive in it’s intangibility. Though it’s a loss of someone you never met on this side of life, it can be more intimately affecting than anyone who’s walked beside you rather than lived inside you.
And for those who have gone through it, the loss is so deeply personal that it can feel impossible to relate, even to those who have suffered through the same. Because it will never be the same. It will always be your body and your baby you must mourn. It will always be a deep and private grief you will carry within, in place of who was once there.
This story remains a hard one to tell, one for which I still don’t feel like I have all the words. One that even now feels too raw to share. But I share it in hopes that it helps. I hope it helps someone who is struggling with their own loss feel a little less alone in their suffering. I hope it helps someone who knows a friend or family member going through loss understand a bit more about the depth of their loved one’s grief and the lasting affects of losing someone, however small, so intimately intertwined with them.
In all of it’s difficulty and sorrow, this story is ultimately a happy one. The happy ending isn’t the three healthy, vibrant children who now fill my days, though I am infinitely grateful for them. The happiness is what I found on the other side of suffering – myself. Grief forces harsh truths to the surface, and had I not gone through this loss, I would not be the person, or more importantly, the mother, I am today. It taught me to be softer, more compassionate; to be aware of the silent struggles that all of us are walking through. It taught me my own strength and resiliency as I moved forward and grew. It taught me the fragility of life, and how to resist holding onto it so tightly, lest it crumble in my fingertips. It taught me the depth of loss and the vastness of love.