Perched atop a wall of immovable rock, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I watch as my kids create an imaginary world.
Each child sets up shop in a different location, collecting treasures: sea glass, red wood, seaweed, and driftwood.
Their shell currency allows them to conduct commerce amongst themselves while they build and expand their rocky residences.
I’m invited to peruse and shop at my leisure. Soon, I’ve discovered a brilliant excuse to invest in the purchase of driftwood: new curtain rods. Over the course of the afternoon, my living room becomes more personalized as the factory rods are replaced with decorative driftwood.
Later, as I walk through the campground I notice that I am not alone in my driftwood acquisition. Nearly every RV I pass has a stash laying about. In a lifestyle that fosters minimalism, the popularity of this beachside treasure does not escape my notice.
What could be easily overlooked, however, is the inherent pain represented in each piece of wood. Devastating wildfires, followed by substantial rains resulting in fatal mudslides have recently swept through this coastal area. An influx of driftwood debris has ensued.
Pretending to be a tooth fairy, losing sleep on feverish nights, reciting nursery rhymes; these come with the mommy package.
I expected them. I embraced them.
Choosing an urn small enough to fit within my fist, drifting away in a haze of grief, reciting Philippians 4:6 through labor like a mantra knowing that the child opening my eyes to a new world of painful reality would never open his eyes to meet mine; this also came with my mommy package.
This I did not expect. I embraced it like I might embrace a crown of thorns.
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.
When I was six I decided I wanted to write a book.
I became fixated on the idea and began by copying other authors’ works in preparation for my own childhood manifesto. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was painstakingly transcribed word for word into my notebook and I dreamed up stories of my own to tell the world. I filled out an application for the Institute of Children’s Literature and waited anxiously for their reply. When their rejection letter came, I couldn’t understand the reasoning of their denial. I was “too young” they said. Who better to write children’s books than a child?
I never imagined the story of my book would be stillbirth, grief, hope and healing.
Years passed and I tucked my writing dream into an inner pocket of my heart. From time to time I would pull it out and stroke it gently through journaling and later blogging. Then an event happened that was bigger than I had ever faced. My 3rd pregnancy train wrecked in the 37th week and my son Sawyer was stillborn. This grief required something new of me; something raw and deep and painful that demanded to be dealt with. I pulled out my electronic notebook and began to write. This time the story was my own. The words, the thoughts, the emotions were mine. I wasn’t writing to make a book, I was writing to examine my heart of grief from angle that I could understand it better. There was a lot to process and 200+ pages later I had finally flushed out the topic of loss to a degree that I could lay down the notebook and prayerfully reflect. In doing so, the Lord prompted me to share my stillbirth story to show others what the process of loss can look like when we are sustained by our Savior.Continue reading “the hardest thing I have ever written: my stillbirth story”