Loss and Life
Madonna and Child
Life, as a friend of mine put it, "is a funny old thing". It twists and turns and meanders and leads you to places that you sometimes don't wish to go to but realize, when you come out the other side, that you needed to visit.
A year and a half ago I had a missed miscarriage. I was only 9 weeks along when I realised I had lost my precious baby. We had nicknamed him 'Wilbur Bean'.
Of course we really weren't going to name him "Wilbur" - it was just an inside joke to make the whole thing a lot more lighthearted, because when I found out I was pregnant, at first I wasn't all that happy. In fact I cried for about 3 days. Here I was in my late thirties with two almost grown kids of 14 and 10, while my partner's daughter was 23. Were we really going to do this baby thing all over again?
On the emotional front I was a wreck. I was in a job that I loathed that was making me physically sick and a baby was the last thing I need to add to my tired, stressed out life. I was devastated. Just the thought of going back into diapers and late night feedings and starting all over again had me doubled over in tears several times a day. I also thought that my partner would feel the same. He is 10 years older than I am - this kid could practically be his grandchild! Just when you think you have life figured out huh!
But surprisingly, he was overjoyed. He hugged me tight and told me everything would be OK and that he was happy that we were going to have a baby. My mouth hung open with shock. Then he fussed and fretted over me and made me feel so totally loved that I started to think..hey maybe this won't be so bad after all. He was so enthusiastic that I finally relaxed enough to begin to enjoy and be thankful for the little miracle we had been given. An unexpected miracle, but a miracle none the less.
I would never forget the first ultrasound at 6 weeks when we saw our little bean for the first time. Chris and I cried and cried. I have never felt so close to him or more in love. It was like a beam of sunshine had been turned on in our lives. There was a little heartbeat and we held hands tightly, marvelling in the wonder of life so many years down the road from our first times around. ..doing this TOGETHER for the first time. I think we floated out of the exam room in a cloud of disbelief sporting bright red noses and teary eyes.
There is a reason for this.
The next three weeks went on happily..announcing to family and friends our good news.
But then at 9 weeks it all went wrong..I felt awful, then the bleeding started. I rushed to my doctor only to be sent for another ultrasound..Chris rushed down to join me. To our shock and crushing sadness we were told that the baby had stopped developing after 6 weeks. There was no heartbeat and it was much smaller than it should have been. I had had a missed miscarriage. My body was not doing its job to expell the dead tissue. I would have to see my doctor and have a D & C done. Sometimes these things happen I was told.
Our worlds fell apart. Now I was crying for the baby I had lost - the baby I had only just come to accept and love.
It COULD NOT be happening to me....this only happened to other people. After all I had had two fine healthy babies and had never given my pregnancies a second thought. Was it something I had done? Was it all my fault for not wanting this little angel at the beginning? Maybe I had wished it away. The guilt and the sadness engulfed me and I was adrift in the sea of my grief.
A miscarriage is a horrible, traumatic thing..especially when 'labour' has to be brought on. I can not even begin to describe the blood, the pain and the horror I endured over the next few hours while my poor Chris sat helplessly outside the bathroom door hearing me in agony and being unable to do a thing to help. It is a night I would never forget. I had no idea that my body could react so violently, and all the while I was thinking of my poor lost baby.
I went in for my D & C the next day..just to make sure that everything had been removed, and as I lay on the operating table my last sight before the anesthetic kicked in was the beautiful puffy clouds outside the picture window. How can the sun be out and smiling when I am dying inside? I sailed away on those puffy clouds and woke up in recovery a little while later feeling lighter...empty. I think at that point I just switched off all my thoughts. It had all been a dream. Chris took me home and I rested. It seemed like every ounce of spirit I had had been drained out of me. How could a tiny little thing..only 9 weeks of my life, have come to mean so much in such a short time? And how could I move forward?
Our society doesn't offer much support to women who have just lost a baby...worse yet if it was very early in the pregnancy. No one wants to know, no one wants to talk. After you tell your friends and family the bad news life is supposed to go on as normal. You hear "well thank God it was early on before you got too attached" or "it was all for the best..maybe something was wrong". All very well meaning, but no comfort to a grieving mom.
You try to rationalize. You try to make sense of it. It does not work.
After a couple weeks of withdrawing into my shell and being silent I finally had to get it out. I wrote a letter to my school friends. I had been organizing a reunion and when I fell silent they were beginning to wonder what happened. Many of them had not even known I was pregnant. This is what I wrote:
I know I have probably forgotten to mention a lot of important stuff and I am relying on you all to bombard me with emails and questions to get the juices flowing again. And now some explaining...
The end of last year was very tough for me in that around October I got the suprising news that I was expecting a baby - due date right smack in the middle of our reunion weekend. Of course this threw me for quite a loop emotionally for many reasons - then ..as soon as I got adjusted to the idea that I was going to be a mommy again, I had a miscarriage in December, just days before I was scheduled to go on my trip. Chris and I and the kids were heartbroken, and I have to say it was one of the hardest things I have had to deal with. I needed some time to heal emotionally. I'm still not healed..but I am trying to get there. I went on my trip and tried to forget everything and enjoy the time with the kids and with Chris -and I just blanked everything and everyone else out, but now that I am back I think the grief is only now really hitting.
I never thought it would happen to me. And even though my baby was only a few weeks old..it was still my precious baby. I have had friends who have lost babies but until you experience it you never really know how truly awful it is. My emotions are all mixed up.. a very small part of me is 'relieved' to get my life back as it was..but a huge part of me is mourning what could have been. I can't even begin to explain what I feel. You tell yourself the old cliches.."it was for the best" "maybe something was seriously wrong and it is better this way" "At least it wasn't so far along" " You have two other healthy kids" "Really do you want to start all that again at 36??" but honest to God, the logic does not take the pain away. One or two of you knew about the baby, but most people didn't as I was still trying to come to terms with everything. I only now feel like I am ready to talk. An email Victoria sent has helped me a lot - it said "when God takes something away it is only to open your hands for something better." I truly believe that. This unexpected child brought more to my family and my relationships in his/her 9 short weeks than many do in a lifetime. It showed me a different and wonderful side of the man I love, it showed me a different side of myself. Once again it has put the important things in life in sharp focus for me.
I know a lot of you have had a rough year, some of us lost family memembers, some of us lost relationships, some of us have had to start over..but we all have to believe that there is a grand pattern to all of this and ultimately it is what we do with what we have that makes the difference. We can take the bad things and find the beauty in them. We can take our losses and defeats and give them up to God and learn and come out of it better and stronger and more compassionate. We write our own stories..the trick is to reach out to others and include them in the tale and make our life a well lived one in the hundred little tiny things we do. Always reach out...sometimes it may save you.
So..here is to a good 2008...a year for coming full circle, for facing our past and finding the beauty in who we have become because of or inspite of it. 2008 is a year of new beginnings, hope and new connections that will help us get through the rough times and enjoy the good times even more. Lets go out there and create our own good karma.
Love you all..and looking forward to the months ahead and beyond.
After I hit the send button I had a moment of panic. "WHAT AM I DOING??" People don't talk about this stuff. I'm supposed to just suck it in and get on with it..no one needs to hear this. I began to feel like an idiot.
But then something surprising happened.
The emails started to come in.
One by one my friends wrote to sympathise and to share with me their own stories of loss. I was shocked to find out how many of them had gone through similar ordeals..some more than once. I wasn't the only one. Their words lifted me up and soothed my wounds. They thanked me for being brave enough to share with them and that it had helped them come to terms with their own losses. I recieved many stories of the sadness they had fought alone, thinking like me that somehow we should just hold it all in and move on. Like these little ones never existed. I was amazed at the compassion and advice that poured in.
It was the first step to filling that empty hole. To this day I don't think they have any idea how their words saved my life.
Not long after I lost "Wilbur" I took a long hard look at my life. At all the things I was not happy with. I think when you go through something so traumatic it brings everything into sharp focus and you realize what is truly important. Things at work had deteriorated and things finally ended. It was time for a new start. Life was pushing me in a different direction. I decided that I really wanted to get back to the thing that I had been missing the most in my life - my art. My first painting on embarking on this new phase of my life was the one above. Loss. It came from my heart. I painted it with all my sadness and grief and my tears smeared the paint. When it was finished I felt empty again..but empty of all the grief. It was the first step in my healing. Eventually I donated it to a women's group that was raising funds to send sick children away for surgery. It made me glad to think that something I had done in tribute to my lost little one would help to save another mother from losing her own precious child.
I threw myself back into my art and found peace I had not known for years. It lead me to my new job as an Art teacher at a primary school and it has introduced me to many wonderful new people. Chris and I grew closer as a couple and for the most part my life is filled with happiness. Sometimes God takes something away from you to open your hands for something better.
I still grieve for my baby. I will never forget him. He is especially on my mind these last few weeks as it is coming up to the day that would have been his 1st birthday had he come into this world as planned - July 7th - the day before my own birthday. I like to think that I have a little angel looking over me. Maybe his little soul just needed to be loved awhile..to be held where there was no pain, or hurt until he had the strength to make another journey. His life had a purpose, and it has changed mine. I still miss him and I will never forget him. His photo is in my wallet along with those of my other two kids.
I hope that if there is another mom out there who has suffered a similar loss that you will eventually see the whole reason in the pattern in your life. Love your baby and remember him. You hold him in your heart even if you could not hold him in your hands. Your pain is real and valid, and you are not alone. Seek out others who will help you get through this..don't feel silly for grieving for a little person who never was. I wish you comfort in your sadness.
And for those of you dear Hubbers who have made it this far...another example of life's many twist and turns:
"The bad news is my diet plans have gone completely out the window.....
The good news is it is because we are expecting a baby in January 2010"
Have a great day everyone and know that whatever we experience today is just a small piece in the wonderful puzzle of life!
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