Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pregnancy And Infant Loss - You Are Not Alone

I have six children. Six precious, amazing gifts who grow older each day and still continue to set my heart ablaze with their wide-eyed wonder, their sincerity, their crazy antics, and their unconditional love.  But I also have two other little souls who I never got to meet.  Lost early in pregnancy, their sweet faces never got to see this side of the womb.  I never got to hold them, or kiss them.  I never got to sing them a lullaby or watch them grow up with their siblings.  One might say that I should focus on the six here with me, and not ever think of those other two who stole my heart and then unknowingly shattered it to pieces.

But they’d be wrong.

Now, I don’t live my days wandering from room to room, wringing my hands and crying for my lost babies.  We live our life pretty normally- homeschooling, playing, reading, weekly Mass, bedtime routines, prayer. We snuggle close and push each other away.  We love and we fight. We visit friends and family, celebrate holidays.  Sibling rivalry is the theme of most days, especially as the kids get older and grow into their own identities and personalities, desperately trying to snatch one more square inch of personal space to themselves. Our household atmosphere is very much like one might expect a large family’s household to seem.  Loud. Chaotic.  But definitely full of love.

So why the mention of the other two? Where are they in this dynamic?
My children know there are two children missing from our family photos.  They know they have a brother and a sister praying for them in heaven.  One was the twin of my second oldest.  One would have been born after my fourth.  Sometimes my children randomly mention these lost siblings of theirs, and in their innocence, still convey a level of grief most adults these days can’t begin to understand.  Some days, it jars me.  It strikes me in moments when my older son runs through the house, his shadow not followed by another kid with his same face.  Or when he has a distant look in his eyes just after he tells me he’s been feeling lonely.  Or when a niggling feeling in the back of my mind says there is someone else not gathered with us for school in the mornings or family prayer in the evenings.  It sneaks in as I stumble over the number of children in our family when meeting someone new.  It rushes through me some days, in moments of despair, and I remember the ache, the loss, the empty spaces in the photographs of our family where those children would have been.  Don’t get me wrong, most days, that ache is a dull drumming deep within me, buried enough so that I am capable of going about my life in a relatively normal manner.  But the other days (thankfully numbering less than they used to) still come in waves, the familiar grief depositing itself within my heart.

The truth is, no matter how many babies I have, there will always be two missing from our dynamic. There will always be an ache deep in my heart for the loss experienced not just by myself, but my children and husband as well.   And there will always be tender parts of my womb where those two little souls were once being knit;  unseen and untouched, they are not so much physical as they are mental, spiritual even.  They were the site of my babies’ first moments of life, the source of attachment to me, their mother.  They were where God Himself began to knit them tenderly, knowing them far deeper than I ever would or could.

A few years ago we named our babies.  Someone asked me why.  My response was that it brought us a little more closure; some comfort, but even then I knew there was something much deeper to it.  We named our babies because they lived, however briefly.  They lived tucked inside the secret of my womb, part of me.  They had a value and a purpose.  God knew them.  I knew them, even though I didn’t even realize it until they were gone.  We named them because they were ours, even for a short time, and because they deserved to be named.  A name gave them a huge piece of their identity, surpassing that of ‘those babies I lost,’ or ‘my miscarriages.’

It’s their memory which reminds me to have hope, even though we live in a cultural climate thick with the darkness of deception.  One deception is that children are an afterthought and can be thrown away; destroyed if we don’t want them.  Just like that.  We live in a culture of death.  We live in a time when the world has turned its focus inward, instead of extending its capable hands outward to welcome even the most innocent and vulnerable creatures into.  We live in a society who scoffs at families with more than 2 or 3 children, and thinks of lost babies as a taboo subject.  Because abortion and child abuse and neglect are so looming, the uncontrolled loss of a child seems to mean almost nothing.  So when a woman is grieving her loss, there are few who will validate that loss, and support the woman.

This month is dedicated to, among other things, pregnancy and infant loss awareness.   But even with a whole month dedicated to it, it is still not often openly discussed.  I think it is important in a society which views babies as a commodity and grief, taboo, to recognize that women are often left by the wayside to struggle through the aftermath of their loss in silence, because the subject of such a loss is not important enough for others to acknowledge.  But grieving mamas need help navigating those murky waters.  We need to be told that our baby is important, that our loss is real.  We need encouragement and support and understanding.  We need shoulders to cry on, listening ears, prayers, meals.  We need our space, too, of course.  And we need time.  We don’t need people telling us to move on.  We don’t need friends and family abandoning us because they feel it’s been too long to still be grieving. We need to be able to be vulnerable in our grief while feeling protected.  We need to talk, and no matter how long after we lost our child, we need to be allowed to keep talking, to remember them, to acknowledge their place in our family.  

Statistics show that one in four women lose their baby in pregnancy or infancy. One in four! If you know someone who has lost a child- and it’s likely you do, please, reach out to them, let them know you are there for them, and mean it. Even if you don't know what it's like to lose a child. Acknowledge their baby’s life, however short it was.  And allow them to shuffle through their grief at whatever pace they need to go, with the freedom they deserve, without expectations placed on their already-burdened shoulders.  Let them lay their hearts bare, no matter how uncomfortable it is for you; let their brokenness bless and change you.  Help them carry their cross. In doing so, you diminish the stigma that often overshadows grief, and you break the cycle of indifference.  You bring love in a time of pain, and hope in a time of despair.  Think about it. You very well could change not just their life and your own, but the entire world. 

PS. If you are reading this and you have suffered a loss and would like me to pray for you, please leave a comment or find my email here. I would love to pray for you.  You are not alone!