April 21, 2015 9 minute read
What does life after losing a baby look like? I’m asking because I can’t figure it out. So far mine looks like sleep deprivation, like aching breasts as my milk comes in, and like my family has permanently moved in. I guess it still looks a lot like what life would have looked like had we been able to bring Reid home with us – that’s the cruelest part. To have the exhaustion, the dried milk all over me, and the family support but to have it all without my baby.
The first days after losing Reid were filled with anger. I live in the South Granville area of Vancouver – otherwise known as mama heaven. We moved here right around the time those two pink lines appeared on that first pregnancy test and I immediately fell in love with our neighborhood. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in Pottery Barn Kids and Lussobaby during my pregnancy. I would step out and spend the afternoon sampling products, learning the names of brands to research, and talking to the salespeople about what a newborn needs and doesn’t need. I loved walking my bump up Granville Street. I’d smile at other expecting moms and keep count of how many UPPAbaby strollers there were in comparison to City Elite strollers. It was a bustling hub of activity for all things baby related. It was like I’d entered this secret world, and oh what an exciting world it was to explore!
All of that changed after losing our baby. When I finally got up the courage to leave our apartment I went for a walk with Aaron along Granville Street. That was hard. As I passed those same stores I felt my throat tighten and my pulse quicken. When I saw a mom pushing her baby in the same black UPPAbaby Vista stroller that remained empty in our nursery I couldn’t catch my breath. When I spotted a pregnant woman I felt a knot grow in my stomach. All of those beautiful things that used to make me so happy had become triggers. They were all reminders that other people were living their lives with their healthy babies, and it brought me back to when I had to start living my life without mine.
Having to say goodbye to Reid, knowing that I’d never see him again, was the cruelest thing I had to endure over April 3rd and 4th. Not learning he had passed, not getting through labor, and not holding his tiny lifeless body in my arms. Leaving my child behind made every mommy fiber of my being scream in protest. This is so wrong. I am forever grateful to our nurse at BC Women’s Hospital who offered to hold him as we left that room. She made it possible for us to remember leaving him in loving arms and not in a cold hospital bassinet with an icepack under the blankets. But we had to leave him just the same.
Walking through those hospital halls with empty arms destroyed me. I will forever be haunted by what I felt in those minutes as we raced to the parking lot as quickly as my body would allow us. By the way my legs threatened to collapse under me as I tried to block out the sounds of living babies crying. There was this one moment that I kept coming back to in my anger during those first days though. It was when I first witnessed the joy of a family who had just become whole mere seconds after ours became broken. We turned the corner by the nurses’ station and had to walk by a new father, happily standing there with his healthy baby in his arms. I wanted to feel that! I would have taken that happiness from him if it meant I could know that joy. It was the first baby I’d seen since leaving Reid and my jealous rage latched on to that vision.
Shortly after sharing our birth story I started to write about how I wasn’t sure I’d ever get rid of this hateful jealousy. I thought often of this father we’d seen in the hospital and couldn’t seem to separate my grief from my anger towards other families who got their happy endings. Then one day, as I was reading through emails, I heard from this father. I burst into tears as I read his words and realized how unfair I was being to hold him and others experiencing the same bliss so angrily in my heart. This is what he wrote:
“You don’t know me, but I saw your tears on April 4. My daughter was born on April 3, 2015 at 5:00pm (on the dot) at BC Women’s Hospital in Cedar/Holly. She was born on Good Friday.
[On April 4th] I took [her] for her first walk out of the room to get more sunlight by the nurses’ desk. I was reading the list of donor’s names on the wall, all who contributed to renovate our room, the whole wing really. I was particularly grateful right at that moment.
Just as I turned back towards our room I saw a couple, walking briskly, bags all packed – with no baby. My heart sank. The possibilities ran through my head: “What could have happened to this couple?” My heart sank more. I looked at [my daughter], and began to tear up. I went back to my wife and told her what I had just seen. Bless her, my wife, [she] said it could have been a number of things other than the worst. She was right; we didn’t know their story. But the tears I saw, and their look of brokenness, I knew something terrible had just happened. I prayed for this couple.
Thirteen days later I came across this story, your story, on CTV News, then your blog, Sincerely, Skin. I’m quite certain that couple I saw almost two weeks before was you. I read your story, “Born Still but Still Born” and was unusually moved to tears. Your openness, vulnerability and awareness of strength found in the midst of weakness – all this has strengthened me. That you find hope in God’s unshakable plan for you is a great encouragement to me. “We don’t know why this is God’s plan for us, and though this pain will never go away we are holding fast to His promise that this is not the end.” I’ve read these words of yours over and over, and each time I do, gratefulness wells up within. What you say here reminds me of what Frederick Buechner once said, “resurrection means that the worse things are never the last things.”
I wonder why God crossed our paths if even for the briefest of moments. You in your deepest pain, and me in great joy – all by the nurses’ desk. To be honest, I feel a very real, disconcerting unfairness in this all. And although I want to, there is no way for me to sense, even in the slightest, the dark corners of your grief. So, hold fast, just as you say, to the hope of His promise. Hold fast.
Thank you Emma for sharing your story, your pain, and your hope.
You don’t know me, but your story has broken me to tears – both for sorrow for you, and for a deep gratefulness of God’s hope in you. May your very worse thing continue to be filled with Christ’s resurrection hope.”
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that this man knew us, because oh did my broken heart know him. But since reading his words the rage has lifted from my jealousy. They helped me to see that these people, the ones I had been holding so angrily in my heart, were the ones who wished they could share our pain the most. This man is a father just as my husband is a father. I realized then that I would never truly wish that he could know this grief. But he has certainly changed it. I think it’s very possible that God crossed our paths for this very reason.
I am still jealous – jealous of all those families who are still whole and who will never experience loss. And my grief is still triggered by pregnant women and babies. But I’m dealing with it. It’s easier without the anger. I can accept that I will always mourn the loss of what I deemed a perfect life in the face of seeing others living it. Because I know that our sorrow will not be wasted. Our life is perfect in a way we can’t yet understand, and maybe we won’t ever. But I pray that we will. Until then I hold on to the belief that we will get our happy ending – it just won’t be the one we’d been preparing for over the past 9 months.
I’m learning that Reid is a part of our lives in a different way now. When I see all of these things that remind me of my baby I still feel sorrow but I can also feel happiness. I love getting to see Reid as I go about my day. Each corner of the lower mainland holds memories of my pregnancy, and while each sign has me longing for my son it also acknowledges that his life was real and it lives on. He matters. When I walk by the Shoppers Drug Mart that stocked the pregnancy test that told me I was going to be Reid’s mom I smile. When I walk along Kits beach as I did in the later days of my pregnancy I remember the way his feet kicked my ribs as he walked with me. When I walk by Lussobaby I think of all the fun we had preparing for his arrival. But, really, he arrived the minute I found out I was pregnant. My whole life was shaped around his existence – and it will continue to be.
So I guess I haven’t really lost my baby, because he’s still here. It hasn’t been 17 days without Reid; it’s been 17 days missing Reid. Missing what I thought my time with him should look like. Does that sound crazy? I think I’m realizing that life certainly looks a lot different than I dreamed it would, but it’s not life without him. I just have to learn how to live without him being here physically – I have to learn how to live in a way that would make my son proud. So that’s what I’ll try to do as I continue to look for his little signs from heaven. With each memory of our time together I’ll picture his perfect, smiling, heart shaped face playfully looking down on me and I’ll do my best to smile right back.
PS If anyone has tips on dealing with the jealousy and the triggers I could use all the help I can get.