joy overcomes grief

It’s been just over five years now since we lost our first daughter. There was a time I didn’t think we’d be able to have a family or even want to try and have a family. I am at a point now where I can reflect on that time and not fall apart, but instead be filled with so much gratitude for all that we have. The joy (and craziness!) in our midst has overcome the grief. Sometimes I see children who are about to turn five and I think of how I almost had a daughter just that age, but then I am reminded that if I had, I wouldn’t have my Wren and my Phoebe. They haven’t been in our lives very long, but it’s hard to imagine a life without them. So many blessings have come from such a dark time. Oh life, you continue to amaze me.

sad tears, happy tears

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