sad tears, happy tears

August 31, 2010 at 9:27 am 27 comments

My desk calendar still reads “August 24″ and it makes sense because I’m feeling stuck there. Literally, figuratively, all a jumbled mess. Last week’s calendar greeted me with a confusing mix of emotions, some clean, happy and overflowing with the spirit of vibrant life, some even a bit raw, and a few that were sorrowful and weepy. Motherhood sure is an emotional roller coaster, eh?

August 24th welcomed Wren Sabina’s 15-month birthday and it also marked the 3rd anniversary of Ariel Jane’s still birth. Wren’s light and energy, passion and thrill, juxtaposed with the darkness of a lost child. A daughter I knew, but didn’t get to know well enough. I share these thoughts today for myself, but also for you for I know you too have experienced loss and you know the confusion of emotions. The way they stay with you and resurface at unforeseen times. Not raw, but also not quite distant enough. Aah, to be only human.

We enjoyed the first 20 weeks of our first pregnancy with ebullient hope and excitement only to be overcome with sorrow, dread and angst for another seven. Ultrasounds are built up to be a really fun experience for soon-to-be Mom and Dad, but this one was met with lots of quiet and questions, confusion. In the end we were told, “sorry, but your child isn’t going to survive.”

The rest of the summer was a blur. Waiting without hope, and tearful days in the bright light of mid-summer. Waiting for the heartbeat to stop while the baby kept growing and I kept growing, visibly very pregnant. Not the early part of a pregnancy when people aren’t quite sure you’re pregnant so they hesitate to say anything. No, the latter part. Round. Beginning of the waddle. Sigh. I didn’t ever lie to people, but I didn’t tell the whole truth. The girl at the grocery store, “awww! When are you due?!!!” November, I respond. She doesn’t need to know. I had an innate sense of the people who could handle the truth and not get too weird with me. I didn’t need anyone breaking down and gasping, sobbing, when I bumped into them in the post office. Good friends and family knew the details, but it’s the newer friends or acquaintances that were the most difficult. What do you say?  I would share the basics when they asked, “wow! How’s it going?” Sometimes I would just respond with a vague, “Oh, fine. How are YOU?!” I tried to make it easy on everyone else, which in turn made it a bit easier for me.

The dog days of summer were punctuated with lots of “why me?” moments followed by the denial that I’d still have to labor and deliver this baby. You have got to be kidding me. Every week we went in to see the doctor and listen for a heartbeat and then one day it was gone. I went back to work and then later that night I was induced. And we waited again. While we were waiting in the hospital for the labor to kick in, we distracted ourselves with a game or two of Scrabble and needless to say, I was not on top of my game. Chris didn’t even let me win.  There’s humor there too, no?

I numbly pushed through labor and delivery, with no happiness in sight, only to then hold a lifeless daughter. Pain with a purpose? What is that purpose when you’re delivery lifelessness? I had pictured us traveling home from the hospital and sitting in the back, watching our child breathe. Instead we traveled home to an empty house. Quiet punctuated only by bouts of sobbing. And the light, so bright. Too bright to sleep the days away, but that’s all I wanted to do, just to escape. Turns out it’s difficult to do much of anything when your milk comes in and your breasts are severely engorged. Hitting the lowest point and meanwhile I try to remind myself that there are lessons here, there are strengths to be gained, there are even opportunities for growth? Positive thoughts only carried me a few steps only to stumble again when I was overcome with the realities of healing my body, raw from delivery. Why all the bad and no good. Cruel, no? And even now, there still aren’t great lessons or reasons and lots of why us? when I think back, but that’s OK now. I’ve reached some peace with the unanswered questions; it doesn’t haunt me (too much) anymore.

At my follow-up appointment with my OB, he wanted to make sure I didn’t give up my hope for a child. After I wiped the tears away and stopped shaking, I thanked him and I still thank him every day for that simple–yet profound–thought for that is what stuck with me through the bouts of sorrow and confusion. Hope eventually won over our weary hearts and our dreams of a family again became vivid.

Fast forward…

At some point every day when I see Wren walk around the house, or drink from her cup, or say “apple,” or give me a hug and kiss, or pick tomatoes from the vine, or throw a tantrum, or refuse to nap and test my patience and strength, I think of the hope and love that is deeply embodied in our relationship. And I squeeze her a bit tighter until she wiggles and squirms away from me, so full of life it bubbles over. Understandably, loss is also deeply woven into our relationship and this helps to shed light on my protection of Wren.

And Ariel Jane? She’s with me every day too. I like to attribute my strength to her. It seems odd to connect a lost child with strength, but emotions rarely are clean and clear. Speaking (err, writing) of clean and clear, I would like to leave you with this poem that Emily so eloquently wrote of our loss.

Scrabble in the Hospital

Jet or zip will give you a higher score
than death or meadow. Even zoo
is greater than grief.  Axe on a double word
will always be more points than embrace.
Our language in tiles can be separated
by vowels, but our bodies cannot speak
the sounds of the word for a baby born
without breath. There aren’t enough letters
for this loss. There are no words
for this color. And when they told me
of how you held your baby girl,
Ariel, I didn’t think of the sprite
on an island or the book of poems
which rests on my night stand.
I thought of your hands
around a blanket of a body
born cold in a room shaded pink.
The same pink of your cheeks in February
on frozen lakes when you’d tell of trout
in their slow sleep. And now your slow voice
staticed and wintered in a phone line
tells me of joy, the stubborn happiness
in loving what cannot live. Knowing
we couldn’t ever spell or keep score
of the light of each star, but we have the word
sky, elephant, and hope. To get close

Entry filed under: Parenthood 101. Tags: , , .

at the water’s edge You say tomato, I say apple

27 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Denise  |  August 31, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I’m so glad that you posted this. I’d always wished that I could have done something to comfort you during this difficult time and I never knew what I to do. My heart broke for you, but I felt that things were so raw and that somehow my attempts to console you would only remind you of your loss. I even felt a bit guilty that I had a daughter that I could go home and hug every day- a joy that you were unable to share. I’ve never forgotten your loss have I forgotten the fact that I’ve never expressed to you how very, very sorry I am. Your strength is truly an inspiration!!!

  • 2. Auntie Em  |  August 31, 2010 at 10:33 am


    Thank you for writing this. I do hope your words are read, found and shared with the all too many mothers who have lost a child. I am grateful for your strength and insight and for the light of Wren. Birds in autumn wind.

  • 3. Mutti  |  August 31, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I’m writing this with tears pouring down my face, as I remember your’s and Chris’s pain in the hospital like it was yesterday. There was nothing I could do, and I so badly wanted to help you. I kept saying, too, “Why HER????” You had been so brave, but then so broken, and my heart still aches for you. I didn’t know you named her Ariel JANE. I also didn’t realize it’s been 3 years, as like I said, it seems like it was yesterday, even though so much has happened since then. I am so happy we have Wren – I don’t know if she’ll ever know how very special she is in so many ways.

    I hope that writing that extremely eloquent memory was somewhat cathartic for you, and reprinting Emily’s poignant poem was a beautiful touch.

    Ashlea – I also hope you know how important you are in my life – not expressed enough, I know, but just like when Wren wriggles out of your hugs, mom’s never quite know when we’ve ceased expressing love, and begun smothering. You’re such a beautiful young woman, and so accomplished – we’re all blessed to have you in our lives.

    xox Mutti

  • 4. Mutti  |  August 31, 2010 at 11:13 am

    excuse the ill-placed apostrophe in the last paragraph.

  • 5. Linda Zeratsky  |  September 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I am struggling to think of what to write, but feel compelled to respond to the out-pouring of emotion in that posting. I send wishes for continued acceptance and the strength to avoid seeking understanding. Love to you, Chris, Ariel, and Wren!

  • 6. Kelsey  |  September 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm


    You are so incredible for sharing this. Thank you. I wish I had more profound words, but what you have written touches me very deeply.
    Much, much love to you & your family on this day & every day.

  • 7. Cile  |  September 2, 2010 at 8:04 am

    I read this yesterday and thought on it all day, into the evening. You used words to summarize your experience so well, so affecting. It’s such a treat to spend time with you, Chris and Wren; you clearly embrace the challenges of and enjoy being a mom.

  • 8. Gabrielle - Design Mom  |  September 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Wow. What powerful words. I’m weeping for your loss and at the same time strengthened by your bravery. Thank you for sharing this.

  • 9. Hil  |  September 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Such a beautiful, heart wrenching story. I gave birth to our son last November who was also stillborn. It was a story of greif and pain. I am now pregnant and due this November. Like yours, my story has become one of hope and strength.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • 10. Nikki  |  September 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Visiting from Gabrielle’s blog. My heart aches for you and your family’s loss. I have no idea how you feel, except for this little piece of writing, which I can assume is only a portion of the grief you have. Thank you for sharing your story. Although I have no children, the strength and resilience of Mothers always amaze me.

  • 11. Mo  |  September 12, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    thank you for giving words to what so many feel

    • 12. Ashlea  |  September 13, 2010 at 8:56 am

      Hi Mo,

      Grateful that my words are meaningful to you.

      Best, Ashlea

  • 13. 2010 in review « squirrels in wren's nest  |  January 2, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    […] The busiest day of the year was September 8th with 1,305 views. The most popular post that day was sad tears, happy tears. […]

  • 14. Misty  |  March 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    So true that emotions are rarely clean and clear. Thank you for sharing your very personal story of loss.

  • 15. Mom love « squirrels in wren's nest  |  May 9, 2011 at 10:07 am

    […] so very grateful to be a Mom. There was a time when I didn’t think I would be able to have children and I feel so blessed to have a happy, […]

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    […] I should probably add that to the worry list, ahem) or even much about labor & delivery. Been there, done that… I’m mostly worried about, well, everything else. How will I have enough love for another […]

  • 18. Devan McGuinness  |  September 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Sending you lots of love. Thank you for sharing your story. xxo

  • 19. lisa  |  December 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Oh Ashlea. I am so sorry for your loss. Your sweet Ariel Jane will always be with you and was so loved, that I am sure. Your strength as a woman and mother is beautiful – I am glad to know you.

    • 20. BeSquirrely  |  December 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Thank you, Lisa!

  • 21. stripes « squirrels in wren's nest  |  December 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

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good coffee, fresh snow, Lake Michigan in August, swimming pools, marzipan, babies & puppies, maps, Scandinavian design, learning, ashtanga yoga, color, zinfandel, postcards, succulents, new pencils, collecting old globes, digging in the dirt. My favorite German words: Quatsch u. Balaststoffe.

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