Monday, September 25, 2006

Longing for baby

Yesterday morning in church, I put my arms around a young mother who’d lost her first baby to miscarriage (yes she IS a mother none-the-less). My eyes filled with tears as I expressed my sadness for the life she’d lost. It’s never fair. It’s never easy. And even though I’ve had a similar loss, I never know the right words to say.

Later that day, I looked over at my sister holding her beautiful dark-eyed baby girl. My eyes filled with tears again as I gazed upon one of the most beautiful images in the world – mother and child. In this case, the picture is made more beautiful because it’s been preceded with more than a little pain along the way. After years of perfecting the auntie role, and quietly longing for her own child, my sister came to motherhood late and now wears the cloak with beauty and grace.

It struck me, as I sat there next to her and reached over to pluck Abigail out of her hands, that the “successful” birth of a child almost seems against the odds sometimes. In between hugging the mother-without-child and sitting next to the mother-with-child yesterday, we had 2 families in our home for lunch, both of whom have adopted at least some of their children. One family adopted all four of their children, and another adopted the two in between their biological children because it seemed they wouldn’t give birth again.

I just need to look at my own family to know that babies cannot be planned or even expected – they can only be hoped for. There are four siblings in my family (including me). None of us have had the family we “planned”. My oldest brother and his wife ached through years of infertility before they adopted their first child. The second child they adopted was only in their home for one night before the birth mother changed her mind. After their third adoption, their family is as complete as it can be while there’s still a hole in it from the one that didn’t stay.

My second brother and his wife had 2 sons in quick succession. They hoped for more, but cancer took that hope away. We are so grateful that my sister-in-law survived the cancer, but we know that there’s still a tiny hole in their life too.

We have our hole too. After 2 beautiful daughters, our son was born lifeless. This week, we remember his sixth birthday. About six months after we lost him, we miscarried another baby. The next year, Maddie brought us joy and comfort after our losses, but while I was pregnant with her (and for several years after) I had an irrational fear that we would lose her too. When you’ve lost one, you keep company with death, and you are forever reminded that life is temporary. It didn’t help that we lost my dad, my uncle, and my grandma just over a year after she was born. The grim reaper seemed too close at hand, and Maddie seemed almost too precious to stay. When she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, I thought my fears would be realized. She’s four now, and couldn’t be healthier, but that doesn’t stop the irrational fear from surfacing now and then.

As I mentioned earlier, the fourth in my family, my sister, waited for years to become a mom. In between, she nurtured her nieces and nephews, but always had to go home alone. The fact that she’s a mother now doesn’t make that pain any less relevant.

When I look around the blogosphere, I’m reminded of the same thing. Anvilcloud and Cuppa rejoice in their daughter’s pregnancy, but this is only after long months and years of living with the pain of infertility. Karla lives with the same fear I did while she goes through her third pregnancy. Her first baby, Ava, lived only a few short hours. Her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Gina longs to have a second child, but health concerns have made that difficult. Those are just a few of the examples I've come across. I’m sure there are others of you who have unspoken pain. Some of you, for example, may cringe a little when you look at pictures of my daughters because it may not seem fair that I got to have three when you had none. I don’t know your pain, but I validate it none-the-less. (And if I have shown insensitivity in any way, by talking too much about my children and not leaving space for your reality, please forgive me.)

My heart aches for each person whose life didn’t go quite according to plan – for those who lost babies, those who lost hope, those who cried alone in their rooms when other people brought babies home, and those who had to give theirs up because of circumstances outside of their control. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to birth and raise our babies, but sometimes we have to live with a different reality.

For all of you who have children, remember to be grateful. Hold them close and enjoy them. Be mindful of the moments you have with them. Don't take that for granted.

For those whose children didn’t get a chance to grow up in your home, if you feel comfortable doing so, please share their names or stories in the comments, and I will commemorate them the next time I visit my son’s grave. For those whose longed-for children remain only a dream, I’d like to remember them too.

On September 27, our son Matthew would be six years old. When I visit the menagerie at his grave this week, I’d like to take with me each of the names of your beloved missing children – whether they died, went away, or lived only in your dreams. You can simply send me a name, or you can send me a poem or some other memento. If you want to post something on your blog, let me know and I will print it and bring it with me. If you had an early miscarriage, and never got around to naming your child, you may want to consider doing so now. A name can be a powerful way to make the memory or dream of your child more real and your pain more valid.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing in the comments, send me an e-mail instead. If your pain is too raw or too personal, I will respect your privacy.

I will try to honour each of your children and your memory of them in a fitting way. I will post a picture of whatever mementos I place at the grave. If you do not have a sacred space for your memories or your sorrows, I hope this can serve as a virtual memorial for you.


Karla said...

Oh Heather, what a beautiful and heart wrenching post.
Experiencing the loss of Ava, and then a miscarriage 10 months later, as you’ve so eloquently said, certainly wasn’t my plan for a family. I can totally relate to the fear you have described with being pregnant for the third time, yet having no living children to show for it.

We only named the child I miscarried bubs. Although I never met and held her in the same way that I met and held Ava after her birth, bubs has been the only name we could muster after our second loss.

I would be honoured to know you will share in their memory along with Matthew’s this Wednesday. You and your family, and Matthew will be in my thoughts this Wednesday as you remember and cherish his memory and the silent, but gentle footprints he has left in your heart.

J said...

This just about broke my heart.

I have been very fortunate. I've only been pregnant once in my life, and I have my beautiful daughter to show for it. I would have liked another, but sadly, money wouldn't allow us to go down that path. (I do realize that was our choice...if we had craved that second baby enough, we would have made it work. But my husband wasn't working, or only very part time, and I wanted to be home with the baby, too. So it was our own selfish desires, some would say, that limited us to one.)

But I have seen the misery that can come. My sister had a miscarriage (then a healthy baby), my sister-in-law 2 (plus two healthy children). My aunt, 2 (plus one healthy child). My friend has a son with severe mental disabilities caused by epilepsy. My cousin adopted a baby, and on the last possible day, the birth mother came and took it away. My other cousin had several miscarriages, and no child at the end of the struggle. My friend lost her marriage, because it wasn't strong enough to overcome the pain of their infertility. I should have had a great aunt, who died when she was 5, from eating poison berries. The sad, tragic stories are endless...every family has them. They break your heart and make you hold your babies closer. I'm very aware of just how precious my own beautiful, healthy, wonderful, funny child is. And I tell her every chance I get. :)

Heather said...
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Heather said...

Karla - I'm so sorry. I should have remembered your miscarriage too. It totally slipped my mind.

I went back to edit the text, as I don't want to overlook your second loss. I will remember little bubs too.

Gina said...

Heather, such a beautiful post, it is any wonder I love you so?

I am so sorry for the loss of your son, I can only wish you healing and hopefully peace as you visit his grave.

The Passarelli's said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Passarelli's said...

This is a beautiful post Heather.
I just recently have been trying to describe how different I look at life now and you have described it perfectly: Keeping company with death! It's like you know it can knock at your door at any time.
Where before I took life for granted.

7:58 PM

juniper68 said...

thanks for this lovely post. it reminded me of the beloved church where I used to be a member, and their ministry to folks who's lost babies, and the memorial garden planted there for that reason. Here's a link:http://www.peaceucc.org/about/prairie_garden.htm

Liz said...

I am very lucky for a woman in my generation. I have only been pregnant twice, although I had a few scares, and have two great kids to show for it. I'm so grateful that I never had to make a decision like that, but still would fight for my girls to have that right.

I have also had my share of grief, enough to last me for a life time, and I am young enough to know that I have a lot more suffering over losses to come.

The very nice man said...

Heart wrenching! Surely nobody should ever have to bury their own children. Who can survive such odeal? Only the good Lord can properly heal those wounds, I am sure of it.
For all women (and men) out there who might be reading your blog I pray angels might lift you up so you feel the love of God for you.

Anonymous said...

Her name is Emily Jane.

I miscarried (second trimester) on December 15, 1979.

One NEVER forgets.

Judy - www.judyh58.blogspot.com

Accidental Poet said...

Ours is a different kind of loss, H. I talked to Michaela's grandma a few months back, and it was such a treat to hear how well she's doing, and what a good mom her b-mom is.

Anonymous said...

heather, as you so eloquently said, none of us really plan our families. I will send prayers of comfort.
My experience is that we wanted many, many children. We had one, our daughter. 15 years later our son arrived. We just know that it was God's plan, not ours.

Anvilcloud said...

This is a very touching piece that deserves a comment, but I didn't quite know what to say my first time through. I guess I still don't.

Patyrish said...

This post was GORGEOUS.

I too had not planned the family I was given. At 29 years old I figured I would have 2 children by now. The Lord has blessed me with one BEAUTIFUL daughter, she is 2 years old and has a severe, rare genetic syndrome....one I am a carrier for. We had no idea until after her birth that she had any problems or of my genetic "flaw". For a long time I mourned the "healthy perfect baby" I had imagined I was having. I do not know what I would have done had I lost my daughter. I can only imagine the pain of that loss and the scar it surely leaves on your heart.
What a beautiful memorial post.

Krista said...

I hate that you are able to have the level of empathy you do for this kind of loss. It's not right. It's not fair. But I'm still grateful at the same time. Thank you for your fumbling words. Thank you for hugging me on Sunday. Thank you for making this 'secret society' less secret. It takes away the devil's power over this kind of grief.

Blondie said...

Beautiful post.

I am not a mother but my heart aches for the women who have loved, lost, and been forced to go on about their days after such pain.


arlene said...

I came upon your Blog through Karla's, and you both have now brought me to tears...I'm sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you have your babies that are with you also. I have a boy and a girl, but 3 years ago I had to have a hysterectomy due to tumors on my uterus and both ovaries. The other 2 children I had planned for my family will not be from my uterus, but they will be mine none-the-less. The funny part about reading your blog this morning is, I'm up early because I was dreaming that I was pregnant, and the doctors said it was a miracle since I didn't have a uterus to carry the baby in...I guess it still bothers me.
My heart aches for you, Karla, and all the other women that have faced losing their children.
Wonderful post!