Parenting After Loss

I was a mother before I became a bereaved mother. I recall in my early post-loss days, one mother, who had lost her firstborn and then went on to have a second child, commenting that it must be much more heartbreaking for me, having a living child first then losing my second-born.  I’m not sure about that. I  only have personal experience on losing my second, but my (unprofessional, inexperienced) opinion is that losing a baby sucks, period.

These are just a few observations that may be a bit unique to someone who had a living child/children prior to their loss.

On Being a Big Sister:

A seems to think that being a “big sister” is a milestone, something that all girls get to be someday (despite pointing out examples of people she knows who aren’t big sisters). This has produced comments through the years like: “that’s the big sister box,” (referring to a box of too-big clothes stored in the top of my closet) and “when I’m a big sister, I will put the pacifier in the baby’s mouth.” This obviously raises the question of whether or not she is now a big sister. We certainly count Baby C as a member of our family. I refer to her as my youngest daughter. But it’s not as simple as that. After all, A isn’t putting pacifiers in mouths, singing songs to Baby C, or keeping her entertained in the backseat of the car. Even now, she begins sentences with “When I’m a big sister…”

And then there’s the fact that A never ‘met’ her sister. Although we spent nine long months preparing her to be a big sister, she never saw that tiny baby she was looking forward to meeting. I feel like this has made the entire experience very abstract for her.

On Explaining Death:

After Baby C died, my husband and I were faced with the task of explaining there wouldn’t be a baby living with us after all. A’s only previous experience with death involved Nemo, her classroom Betta Fish. Everything I read about explaining death to children detailed being very blunt and honest. So I was. But for days after, A would ask when the doctors would fix Baby C so she could come home.

And 10 weeks later: “If a people dies you don’t grow and grow anymore, you just die and you don’t have your birthday anymore.” (Birthdays are a HUGE deal).

On Mama Guilt:

In the earliest days, I felt TONS of guilt that I wasn’t able to pull myself out of bed for my living daughter. Mother’s Day was 6 days after I delivered, and I spent the ENTIRE day curled up in bed crying. I’m hoping this isn’t a memory that sticks in my child’s head

I often worry that A will become damaged from my grief. It cannot be healthy for a child to continually witness her mother crying.

On Triggers:

Having a living child meant that, once I was able to remove myself from my dark bedroom, I was expelled into the world, no longer able to hide myself away from tiny babies and pregnant bellies. There were many tears held back in the middle of Target, parks, birthday parties, beaches, daycare, and Story Land. One day at my daughter’s gymnastics lesson, a mom was hiding in the corner breastfeeding and I started to cry. For that one specific example, I must have twenty more.

Audio books.  Junie B. Jones. This one that my daughter LOVES but makes me cry every.single.time. I asked her why she loves it so much. Her response? “Because I love babies so SO much!”

On Empathy:

One night I was crying, not just the streaming tears crying–it was the all-out loud sobbing crying. A gave me one of her dolls to cuddle and when my husband asked me what was wrong, she said “she wants Baby C,” something I had not explicitly said to her. She wiped my tears and patted my face. It was the most amazing thing to witness a 4 year old express such empathy for another human. I’m not sure that can be taught.

On Being “Thankful More Than Thankful Has Ever Been Thanked”:

I often gaze at A in absolute awe. She’s alive. I lay my hand on her chest to feel the rise and fall. I listen close to hear her breathe. I kiss her temple. How? How could I deliver one amazing child, alive, and yet my sweet baby was cruelly jerked away from my loving arms? But in the midst of “why me” “it’s not fair” and “F-you, Universe,” I  truly am “thankful to the nth degree” (credit: Angela Miller–and if you haven’t read her writings, DO IT NOW!)

 

What insights have you found in parenting after loss? Is there anything you find to be unique about parenting your living child? Or, if your loss was your first-born, what do you think is unique about your story?

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Ch-Ch-Changes

There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were. —Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the phrase bereaved mother. Unlike some, who become mother and bereaved mother simultaneously, my experience was subsequent–my eldest daughter made me a mother first and then my second daughter made me a bereaved mother. A co-worker recently made a comment on my Facebook page “Hope to see you soon…really miss your humor.” I thought to myself: Who am I now? Do I still have a sense of humor? How has becoming a bereaved mother changed my identity?

When I became a mother four years ago it was life-changing. My birth experience, while not exactly what I had planned, was empowering. I cherished every moment of my maternity leave–waking in the dark summer night, nursing my baby, listening to the frogs, owls, and our neighbors’ new puppy. Yes, I was tired (exhausted). Yes, my days were filled with loads of laundry, explosive diaper changes, and lots of spit up. But I loved nursing my baby. I loved watching her sleep. I loved adorning her in beautiful summer dresses (we had many outfit changes, you know, because of the explosive diapers and the spit up).

Delivering my second daughter was also life-changing and empowering.  And devastating. When I heard those words “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat,” I immediately thought, I want a C-section. This was not offered to me and I was told that it was better for me to deliver naturally. My brain knew this but my heart, my heart could not comprehend how I was going to do what was being asked of me. Since surgery was off the table, I decided I wanted whatever medication they would give me. Upon admission, my nurses hooked up my saline lock and administered Stadol to alleviate some of my discomfort. By the time the anesthesiologist came to my room several hours later, it was too late to get any additional medication. After 24 minutes of pushing, there she was, all 7 lb 2 oz of beautiful baby girl. I had a new word to describe myself. I would continue to be woman, daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, and mother. Now I was also bereaved mother.

Commonly referred to as “the club”, I have seen many variations: Bereaved Mothers’ Club; Loss Mama Club; The Club Nobody Wants to Join; and others which include fathers and tease out specifics between miscarriage to stillbirth to losing an adult child.

I recently observed two women–years out from their losses–commiserate about a constant feeling of absence. They spoke of a need to continue having babies because of this hole, this knowledge that a child is missing from their family. Always missing yet irreplaceable. And then it hit me:

I will be a bereaved mother for the REST OF MY LIFE.

This is part of me, part of who I am and I am powerless to change it.

A great comfort to me is knowing that I am not alone. There are others who have gone before me (and unfortunately, more will follow). This is a disturbing thought–to gain comfort as a result of other parents’ heartache–though I have been told that it is “normal.” I get more comfort from my support group than my therapist. I now belong to a multitude of “loss” and “grief” Facebook pages. I love reading all of your blogs. And after watching the movie Jackie, I wanted–needed–to know who else has survived this tragedy of child-loss.

Legendary Jackie Kennedy suffered a stillbirth, a miscarriage, and the death of Baby Patrick at two days old.  The singer Annie Lennox delivered  a stillborn son, Daniel. Gladys Presley delivered twin boys–one stillborn (Jesse) and one living (Elvis). Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower lost a son, Doud “Ikky” to scarlet fever when he was just 3 years old. Mary, became a bereaved mother when her only son, Jesus, was publicly executed at the age of 33 years.

My own grandmother (who died before I was born) was a “Loss Mama.” My mom rarely speaks of an infant brother who passed away at 7 weeks of age in 1955. After my own experience, she told me it was the only time she ever saw her daddy cry. Two of my mom’s aunts were pregnant that summer and my grandma was trying to be happy for her sister and sister-in-law while her own baby boy was in the ground. “My poor mother,” said my own mom, “my poor daughter.”

What in your life has changed the most since the loss of your beloved? Have people in your life made comments on how you are a different person now? Do you view the changes as positive, negative, both, or neither? What do you call your “club”?

35 Songs for a Grieving Parent

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ~Maya Angelou

I’ve been moving rapidly through the Stages of Grief and what better way to commiserate than to turn up the music and cry (or scream or throw things or sob into pillows, well I think you have the general idea).  My current favorite is #29 below, “Stars” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This really speaks to what my heart is feeling right now. If you are so inclined to listen to a truly gorgeous version, click here

I would love, love, love to know what songs are resonating with you as you journey through your own personal hell (I mean grief). Please comment below. 

  1.  A Falling Through–Ray LaMontagne
  2. All of the Stars–Ed Sheeran
  3. Angel–Sarah McLachlan
  4. Ave Maria–Beyonce
  5. Beam Me Up–P!nk
  6. Dancing in the Sky–Dani and Lizzy
  7. Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part–Ryan Adams
  8. Emma’s Lullaby–Kenzie Nimmo
  9. Far Away–Nickelback
  10. Fly–Celine Dion
  11. Fly Away–Amy Lynn
  12. Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)–Dixie Chicks
  13. Gone Too Soon–Simple Plan
  14. Held–Natalie Grant
  15. I Want You Here–Plum
  16. I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song)–Selah
  17. I Will Follow You Into the Dark–Death Cab for Cutie
  18. I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Cover)–Jasmine Thompson
  19. I Will Not Say Goodbye–Danny Gokey
  20. I’ll Be There–Escape Club
  21. If I Die Young–The Band Perry
  22. Let It Be–The Beatles
  23. Lullaby–Dixie Chicks
  24. Not Right Now–Jason Gray
  25. One More Day–Rocket Club
  26. Safe & Sound–Taylor Swift with The Civil Wars
  27. See You Again–Carrie Underwood
  28. Smallest Wingless–Craig Cardiff
  29. Stars–Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
  30. Still–Gerrit Hofsink
  31. To Where You Are–Josh Groban
  32. Waiting on an Angel–Ben Harper
  33. When a Heart Breaks–Ben Rector
  34. When You Come Back Down–Nickel Creek
  35. Winter Song–Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson