Sometime over the past few weeks I became aware of an awesome project that Angie from Still Life with Circles had started on her blog. She began by writing a very thoughtful and moving post about where she is at in her grief and her life right now, two years, five months and counting since her baby girl Lucy’s death. Then she invited other bloggers who have lost children to write about where they are and how they are doing at whatever point they are at in their grief and healing. Angie talks about how helpful it can be to have some insight into where others who have “been there” are at down the road or even to be able to look back at those who are more fresh in their losses to see how far we have come, as well as having opportunities to reach out to parents who are still so new to this journey through grief and loss.
I have seen many bloggers that I follow posting about “Right Where (They Are)” over the past few weeks. Though I was very intrigued, I kept my distance, choosing not to read (and comment) on their posts (yet), in part because we have had so much going on in our life with trying to sell our house, the end of the school year for our son Sean and on top of all that our daughter Abby came down with strep throat (though she is thankfully feeling a lot better now and acting like her old self again). This is also why that I have not managed to post any new blog entries here in over two weeks or do much reading and commenting anywhere else.
After having one of those whirlwind weeks, when I often couldn’t remember what day it was or how long ago something happened (including things that had taken place fairly recently), I finally was able to carve out some time for myself last Friday to read Angie’s post and I look forward (and intend) to starting to make my way through every one of the 100 + links that others have shared at the end of her blog entry in the days and weeks to come.
As I wrote in my comment on Angie’s post, being over three years out now, having a child before my loss and a SPAL (subsequent pregnancy after loss), I could relate to so much of what Angie said. It is so validating to read about what I am often thinking and feeling and to know that someone else that is also years out from their loss is in a similar place emotionally.
I am grateful to Angie for creating this wonderful concept and for giving so many of us a new vehicle to process and to share where we are at in our grief and life right now. Reading her thoughts and words were just what I needed to see at this stage of my own grief and healing. Writing my “Right Where I Am” reflection (which you will find below) was very therapeutic for me. I look forward to reading all of the other “Right Where I Am” posts, that I imagine will also be very moving and healing for me to digest as they were for those that wrote them.
Today it has been three years, one month and four weeks since our second child, our daughter Molly Marie was born and died on April 17, 2008 at 29 weeks and 5 days gestation of a rare, severe and fatal combination of congenital heart defects (CHD).
Though Molly was in many ways the most significant loss that my family and I have experienced trying to expand our family, she was not our first experience with loss on our journey.
It has also been six years, six months, one week and six days since our first pregnancy loss (an early miscarriage) that took place on December 1, 2004 (EDD July 20, 2005).
It has been five years, nine months, three weeks and five days since our second pregnancy loss (another very early miscarriage) on August 19, 2005 (EDD April 26, 2006).
It has been five years, seven months, one week and two days since our third pregnancy loss (an interstitial ectopic pregnancy) that was removed on November 5, 2005 (EDD June 18, 2006, Father’s Day that year).
It is hard for me to believe that much time has passed since all of our losses, especially since I carried our first baby girl. There are so many layers to my grief and the healing that I have experienced in my life since our first loss over six years ago in December 2004 all the way through our most recent and overwhelming loss of our daughter in April 2008.
Angie talked about in her “Right Where I Am” post that she doesn’t want the only purpose of this project to be how those of us that are further out share that “it gets better.” I appreciate her sentiment and intention in writing that. So I do hope to be able to express more than that in this post. However, I do feel that it is important for me to share how far I have come and how much better I feel since this time three years ago when we lost Molly, as well as since our first pregnancy loss six years ago.
Not a day goes by that I do not think about Molly. When I pass one of her pictures (we have a number of photos from her birthday, along with one of my favorite of her ultrasound pictures, around our home) I have mixed feelings. I often smile as I think about our very special baby girl and I also feel pain that she didn’t get to stay with us here longer.
I used to talk about Molly a lot more than I do now. I used to feel the need to talk about her with anyone that would listen or indulge me in those early days after her death. Now I am more intentional about who I want to share about our baby girl with. It is still bittersweet (and often painful) for me when I get asked the question, “how many children do you have?” Sometimes I am able to proudly answer: “Three, two on earth and one in Heaven.” However, there are also occasions when I just say “two” and choose not to “go there. I don’t try to hide from opportunities to talk about Molly, but I also appreciate that it is okay sometimes not to share if I am not feeling strong enough or don’t believe it will be worthwhile to open up about our daughter and our loss.
Blogging here continues to be a very therapeutic way for me to work through my feelings related to Molly and the other early pregnancy losses we experienced after Sean’s birth and before we conceived Molly. I could really relate to something that Angie wrote about what blogging means to in her “Right Where I Am” post. She said in regards to her feeling compelled to write so much about her baby girl Lucy (that died),
It makes it sound like I dwell in grief, but this is the place I process that part of my life. And it is so important, I can’t give it up.
That really speaks to a huge part of what my blog has been for me since our daughter Molly was born and died, as well as a place for me to process all of the pregnancy losses we have experienced on our journey through secondary infertility to try to build our family.
Some people might wonder why Angie, I or others chose to process in such a public way. I can appreciate that curiosity and at times even the misunderstanding that some may have about our intentions. Though I cannot speak for others, I can tell you that part of why I choose to write and to share here, as much or more than I do in my private journals, is because I know how much it helps me to be able to read and to connect with the thoughts, feelings and experiences of other bloggers who have dealt with infertility and loss. I try to spend as much time reading and commenting on other bloggers’ writing as I do posting here. I have learned so much and found a great deal of validation in doing so. I also have been humbled by how many readers (both those I know “in real life” and those I have never met in person) have shared with me through their comments on my posts here and/or other ways, such as personal emails, how much my blog entries have helped them on their journeys through infertility, grief and loss.
I still regularly attend the monthly perinatal bereavement support group called “Caring Connections” at the hospital where I delivered all of our children. I began attending there in September 2006, almost a year after our third pregnancy loss. We talk in that group about how we try to be “better and not bitter” in regards to the losses we have experienced. Not feeling bitter isn’t easy after losing a child, but it is something I can strive for. I don’t attend this group regularly these days for the same reasons I did in the beginning. I go there now as much to help others who are earlier on in their grief and healing, as I do to help myself. However, in helping others to deal with their losses, I realize that I am also helping myself to continue to process, to heal and to grow.
More recently some of the women that I have gotten to know over the years and feel close to from Caring Connections and I have started getting together monthly, in addition to our support group meetings, for dinner. We find that this time together gives us a chance to talk more candidly about some of the things we don’t always feel we can or should discuss at the meetings around newcomers who are more fresh in their losses and grief work. I have come to really look forward to these monthly dinners, as the further out I get from losing Molly and our other angel babies, the less I feel my loved ones who have not lost a child(ren) try to understand or to support me through this journey of grief and healing.
I get the sense that many, though certainly not all, of our friends and family members just don’t get it. They seem to think that we should be over our losses or they just don’t think about our losses anymore at all. They insinuate that because we have had Sean and now Abby in our life now, that somehow that should make up for our daughter’s death and the other pregnancy losses that we experienced. It feels to me like they believe that if I only try harder to just focus on our living children, then I would be so much happier.
Please don’t get me wrong, I feel unbelievably blessed and grateful to have my living son and daughter in my life. However, I will never get over the death of my daughter Molly in Heaven. That being said, I really am very happy in my life today. But that happiness will always include a place in my mind and heart for our baby girl and the three other angel babies that we lost and who I believe watch over us from Heaven.
The more I realize that many of our loved ones no longer seem interested in talking about Molly and the other losses we have had, the more I find it helpful and healing to spend time with those who truly understand and appreciate what it means to go on with your life after a part of you dies. I find myself drawn to other bereaved parents, especially mothers, who have also experienced the death of a child. It isn’t that I don’t want to maintain and to work at the relationships in my life with those who have not lived through such a loss. I am just learning that if I spend time regularly with other bereaved mothers who “get it,” then I can find the care and the support that I crave from them. I also am able to return the care and the support that my friends who have also lost children want and need so much. My “bereaved friends” and I talk often about wishing our children were still here with us, but being grateful for the new friendships we have made and being able to “walk with” such incredible women on our journeys through grief and loss.
The more time that passes since Molly’s death and other pregnancy losses, I am learning how important it is to be kind to myself and others “right where we are.” For so long I wanted (and really expected) many of our loved ones to be there for us in ways that I now appreciate was unrealistic. I longed for some of our friends and family members to let me know that Molly’s death was really hard for them too. I hoped and dreamed that they would continue to want to celebrate her short, but very special, life with me and my family in the years to come, long after her birthday, burial and memorial service in the spring of 2008. However, I realize now that we all deal with grief and loss differently. I know that each of us has the choice to do “what works for us.”
I understand that just as I find it frustrating when I get the sense that my loved ones don’t think I am handling my grief and loss appropriately, or at least the way that they believe that they would if they were in a similar situation, I also need to try to be open to the idea that all of my loved ones may not be comfortable with the ways my family and I choose to honor Molly’s life and memory (as well as our other angel babies). I do realize that just because some people in our life may not be comfortable talking about Molly or participating in some of the things our family does to honor our baby girl, it doesn’t mean that they do not care, that they don’t remember her and/or that their lives and hearts were not touched by her time here with us.
Some other things about “right where I am” now, that I have shared about in recent months here on my blog, are that many of the feelings about life and happiness that I struggled with during our five year journey through secondary infertility and loss I now appreciate are universal feelings that are often associated with times of uncertainty and ambiguity in our lives. That isn’t to say that the extreme pain and grief that a parent experiences when they lose a child is not very real and very sad. Those of us that have experienced such heartbreak have a lot of work to do to move through our grief, heal and find ways to adjust to the “new normal” that has become our life. Many of the bereaved moms that I know talk about how though “we never get over the loss of our children, we can learn to live without them.” That said, looking back, I thought a lot of the feelings and emotions that I was dealing with related to infertility and loss were unique to that time and those situations in my life. The further down the road I get in my life as an adult, I am constantly reminded that as M. Scott Peck said in the first line of his wonderful book The Road Less Traveled, “life is difficult.” The sooner we are able to accept that and find ways to deal and to cope with the challenges we face in life, the more content we will hopefully be able to be. For me at least, my life is becoming more and more about trying to live mindfully, while also doing my best to embrace uncertainty and to appreciate “delicious ambiguity.”
One of the most beautiful and wonderful things that I have been able to witness since the birth and death of our baby girl Molly over three years ago, as well as the pregnancy losses we experienced beginning six years ago, is the very positive impact that I believe Molly and our angel babies’ lives have had on our living children. That is not to say that I wouldn’t take any one of our babies back in a heartbeat or that losing them was not very sad and painful for our family, especially our son Sean. However, I really believe that Sean and Abby have become and will continue to grow and develop into more compassionate human beings because of the experience of being Molly and our angel babies’ brother and sister.
The older Sean gets the more he wants to know about his sister Molly, as well as our other angel babies, and the more he understands. He already seems to have such a good understanding of death and the afterlife, at least what we believe about those who go before us. He asks such thoughtful and interesting questions about his sister Molly and other loved ones who have died. Sean appreciates how blessed and lucky he is (and we are) to have his sister Abby in his life and our family, after wanting to be a big brother to a living sibling for so long. He answers “hard questions” (though I don’t think he perceives them that way yet) like “how many brothers or sisters do you have?” with confidence saying, “I have two sisters, one in who lives with us here on Earth and the other is in Heaven.”
We are also slowly trying to introduce Molly and her place in our family to Abby. As I shared in my letter to Molly on her 3rd “Heavenly Birthday” earlier this year, Abby already knows how to say her sister Molly’s name. At first she said “Mol” and eventually transitioned to saying “Ma-yee.” Sometimes when Abby sees a picture of Molly she will smile and say “baby.” We also found a wonderful children’s book called Someone Came Before You that was written by the same authors who wrote We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead. We have read it to Abby a few times and plan to continue to do so in the years to come, as we help her to learn and understand more about her sister Molly.
My family and I continue to visit Molly’s grave, though we don’t go as often as we did in the first year after her birth and death. Back then I would try to get there at least once a week. It was therapeutic in those early days for me to be able to decorate and care for our daughter’s grave in a way that I was never able to care for her after she was born, died and buried. I love that our children don’t see cemeteries as uncomfortable or scary places to be. When we drive by or approach the cemetery where Molly is buried (or it seems any cemetery these days), Abby will say Molly’s name out loud, as she clearly associates seeing beautiful landscapes filled with headstones with her big sister in Heaven.
Since Molly is buried in the “Holy Innocents” baby section of the cemetery, it is usually decked out with beautiful and whimsical decor lovingly placed by the families and other loved ones of the many children that died much too soon. Sean and Abby seem to enjoy going to “visit Molly,” as do I. They like to help me check on their sister’s headstone, as well as the decorations that we and other loved ones have left at her grave. While at the cemetery, sometimes we also walk around to see the other decorations and visit the graves of Molly’s “Heavenmates,” (a term that Sean coined to describe his sister’s playmates in Heaven). At times Sean even likes to talk about what he pictures Molly and her Heavenmates are doing, such as wondering if they take swimming lessons there. Though I feel that our family gets a lot of peace and joy from being able to visit our baby girl’s grave the the cemetery, it is also sad at times when we reflect on how much bigger the baby section where she is buried has gotten over the past three years. It is especially heartbreaking when we arrive to visit Molly’s grave and notice that there is a new addition/a freshly dug plot and burial that has taken place there. On those days we ask Molly to look out for the new baby(s) that have recently joined her in Heaven.
Lastly, when I think about “right where I am” now and how far I have come since Molly and our three angel babies left this world, I am incredibly grateful for the gift of writing. As I have shared in this post, and many others, being able to process my experience here over the years, along with the care, concern, support and encouragement that I have received from family and friends (including my fellow bloggers), has been so helpful to me on my journey to grieve, to heal and to grow. Were it not for our journey through secondary infertility and loss I might not have ever found the inspiration to write as much and as often as I do. Writing for me has become a skill, a hobby, and possibly even a vocation, that I intend to continue to develop and to work on in the years to come.
Thank you for reading and for abiding with me as I reflect on right where I am and how far I have come three years, one month and four weeks since the death of our baby girl Molly and over six years since we experienced our first pregnancy loss. Thank you again to Angie from Still Life with Circles and all those who have taken the time to contemplate and to share “Right Where (You Are)” since you experienced the loss of one or more of your children. If you are reading this in part because you also have a child that died or lost a loved one of any age, I am so sorry for your loss. Though I understand what it means to lose a child, I appreciate what a personal and unique experience such a tragedy can be. Please know that my thoughts and prayers go out to you and your loved ones as you continue to grieve, to heal and to grow. Though I wish we were all still able to hold our babies and/or loved ones in our arms today, I do believe that those who leave this world much too soon will always be in our hearts. I will leave you with my favorite quote about love and loss:
“What we have once enjoyed and loved deeply we can never lose. For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” ~ Helen Keller