What happens when death visits and you have no one to talk to about your loss? How I discovered my tribe and found a voice in the void.
Whether its facing toddler tantrums or travel woes, potty training or panic attacks, it feels good to know we are not alone. Talking with others who are or have walked a similar road of celebration or sorrow is comforting, if not simply confirming, that we are not slipping silently into insanity. However, certain topics are by default easier to talk about than others. Menopause for instance is a conversation I have not dug into with anyone just yet. To be honest, that future period of my life (or lack thereof if you know what I mean wink-wink) is still very hazy. Stillbirth is another not-so-common topic of discussion. The unfortunate consequence is that grieving can be a confusing and lonely place to find yourself.
Eight years ago, when our third child (Sawyer) died three weeks before his due date, I faced a mountain of unknowns. What was it like to deliver a dead baby? Does one have a memorial service in a situation like this? How do we explain his death to our children (who were 5 and 3 at the time)? After delivery should our kids be allowed to hold their baby brother or be sheltered from seeing him? Should I change plans and deliver him in a hospital or continue with the home birth as planned? Should we induce or wait until my body went naturally into labor? Should we bury or cremate his body? Would my body still produce breast milk? How long would it be until my mind could conceive a single thing that was not somehow tangled in thought to my son? Would the pain ever go away? Was it normal to want to get pregnant again so soon? The questions seemed as endless as the grief. I’d never known anyone to face this kind of loss to whom I could go to and ask questions. Or so I thought. . .
In the United States, a miscarriage usually refers to a fetal loss less than 20 weeks after a woman becomes pregnant, and a stillbirth refers to a loss 20 or more weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.
Stillbirth is further classified as either early, late, or term.
An early stillbirth is a fetal death occurring between 20 and 27 completed weeks of pregnancy.
A late stillbirth occurs between 28 and 36 completed pregnancy weeks.
A term stillbirth occurs between 37 or more completed pregnancy weeks.
Stillbirth effects about 1% of all pregnancies, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.1 That is about the same number of babies that die during the first year of life and it is more than 10 times as many deaths as the number that occur from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
As it turns out, that 1% segment of the population was much larger than I realized and as I began to write about my stillbirth story on my blog, I began to connect with women who knew the road I was walking because they had traveled it themselves. I also began meeting others who had bravely walked alongside those women. Together we were stronger, braver and had more purpose than we did alone. Many of these women were willing to share a part of their stillbirth or infant loss story in my recent book, “Finding Joy in the Mourning: A Mother’s Journey through Grief to Hope & Healing“. They openly answered questions such as:
After your loss, what were your feelings toward having another child?
Is it helpful for you when people bring up your loss or would you rather avoid discussing it?
Are you comfortable if/when others ask about the details of what happened (how/why your child died)? Would you rather people ask or just leave that question alone?
What would be most meaningful to you for friends or family members to do to remember your child’s birthday or anniversary of their death?
How have your relationships with other people changed because of your experience?
How have your beliefs about God and the world changed or deepened through your experience? Have you dealt with anger toward God?
Which “comforting phrase(s)” or comments were most hurtful to you (i.e. what should people avoid saying)?
Were there any gifts given to you or your family after your loss that stood out as most meaningful? Why?
Looking back, what do you wish your friends and family would have known that might have helped them to support you better?
And many more. . .
Isn’t it beautiful to think of the combined consensus of support that can await those who have a tribe of understanding hearts surrounding them? I want that. I want that for myself and I want that for you. Be it parenting, marriage, lifestyle choices (living in an RV anyone?) or grieving, we all need “our people”.
Lastly, if you or someone you know is grief-stricken, I’d consider it an honor if you would share my book with them. I’d love to have the opportunity to keep them company on their own journey of sorrow and, Lord willing, bring them some glimpses of hope and healing.
I’ve taken a few deep breaths between my last post and this one as we wrapped up our school year and settled slightly deeper into this lifestyle that is not yet old, but a bit beyond brand-new. In that time, I’ve been stretched to figure out where our family boundaries lie when our home-sweet-home rests within an RV park on public grounds.
I’ve discovered that newly formed friendships may seek out my children with a knock at our front door during breakfast, mid-morning school, afternoon or evening dinner hour. I’ve grappled to discover my appropriate response when new park playmates ask me for food, drink and band aids while their parents (whom I have not yet met) camp a short distance away. I’ve struggled to define appropriate personal space within this public place (i.e. which (if any) kids are allowed into our home and when and for how long?). These decisions demanded honest self-reflection and clear family communication.
If your heart is in a place where you can trust God enough to be open to doing anything or going anywhere, following Jesus is a compelling adventure. In the gospels I read about His invitation to follow Him (Matthew 4:19) and I see the response: His disciples dropped everything they were doing and followed. After a process of time, prayer, and soul-searching, Trent and I were in that place: we were ready to sell anything and follow anywhere. We were prayerfully sensitive to the opportunities that came across our paths and sought to determine, “Is this opportunity God’s will for us or is this simply a distraction?” We waded through a sea of possibilities for almost a year. We prayed through business opportunities, selling our home, buying a duplex, moving back to California, and moving overseas. In the process, we discovered more about our passions, dreams and goals and we continued to bring these to the feet of Jesus and ask, “Show us what to do with these things in our hearts.” Some of the particular areas we processed included: Continue reading “anti-lukewarm”