I’ve talked a few times before about my neighbor’s sister losing her baby several years ago. In the months that followed her son’s death, she seemed to be doing ok whenever I saw her. So I thought I shouldn’t bring it up or ask how she was doing, because that might ruin her mood or remind her about this awful thing. Or it might seem insensitive somehow.
Now, being on the other side of the experience, I can tell you that no matter how good of a mood I’m in or how ok I seem to be, I have not forgotten that Christian died – and asking me about him won’t make me feel bad. I’d much rather have you awkwardly ask how I feel or what I’ve been thinking than to completely ignore the topic.
I understand that we don’t talk about death much, so it’s uncomfortable at first. Let me break the ice, then: my baby, Christian, died about two months ago, an hour and a half after birth. I won’t feel bad if you use words like “death” and “dead” instead of euphemisms like “lost” and “passed away.” It might be easier for you to hesitantly tiptoe around the subject of Christian’s death, but I promise you won’t offend me by talking about it (as long as you aren’t trying to cheer me up with an “At least…” statement). I want Christian to be acknowledged. And I want my feelings to be acknowledged, too.
Jarom’s aunt gave us this lovely framed poem by James Whitcomb Riley. If I haven’t gotten the story mixed up, Jarom’s great-grandmother got the poem when her father passed away in the 1920s. In addition to the message, I’m smitten with the type! Isn’t is beautiful?
Away by James Whitcomb Riley
I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead, He is just away!
With a cheery smile and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land
And left us dreaming how very fair
It must needs be, since he lingers there
And you – oh you, who the wildest yearn
For the old-time step and the glad return
Think of him faring on, as dear
In the love of There, as the love of Here,
Think of him still as the same, I say,
He is not dead – he is just away.
I don’t interact much with anyone lately. When I do, there are some tentative “How are you doing . . . ?” moments, some of which seem to be genuine inquiries about my well-being. Others come off feeling like cursory, obligatory, awkward attempts to acknowledge – without actually bringing up – the fact that my baby died.
I never know how to answer. How am I doing? Am I dealing well with my grief? Have I completely fallen apart? I’m not even sure how I feel at any given moment. It’s become difficult to write because I have no words for this. And I can’t find the right word to describe my emotions. Sad isn’t painful enough. Grieving doesn’t include all the times I feel mostly normal. Lousy is too casual. Despondent ignores the sharp moments of pain and anxiety. The closest I can come is to say I feel bereaved.
I don’t consciously think about Christian’s death often; it lurks in my mind, much as I have a paper due next week and I haven’t even chosen a topic or I need to pay the gas bill soon might. It feels like I need to somehow “deal with” his death, though what that entails I have no idea. Some poor logic makes me believe that if I were able to “deal with it,” I could wrap the whole experience up in a nice little mental compartment and not be affected by it anymore. How preposterous! I firmly believe that even though I’ll gradually feel differently than I do now, losing Christian will always affect me. For now, I’m trying to accept that I feel, as a person, dulled and muted. As if I can’t be happy in the way I was before Christian died.
So I read, and paint, and sleep, and occasionally do useful things like go grocery shopping or make the bed. I let life happen with minimal involvement on my part. When an image of that day in the hospital flashes into my mind, I feel a clutch of fear – fear of how painful it is to really feel the loss of my child. It’s so hard to allow myself to hurt like that. Instead, I force myself to make do with feeling sad, grieving, lousy, despondent. And I hope when someone asks how I’m doing, eventually I can say I feel better. Bereaved – but better.
Things that are still hard:
Seeing pictures of others’ newborns.
Finding out that friends are expecting.
Passing by baby clothes at the store.
Explaining to Evan, again, that Christian isn’t coming to our house. Ever.
Briefly thinking I’ll get a diet coke to make Tiny Baby wiggle and then remembering . . . that doesn’t happen anymore. I’m not pregnant. My baby died.
Suddenly feeling sad and knowing I may have moments like this for quite a while.
Moving on with life.
I know there are a lot of new people reading the blog, so I thought I’d give you a chance to ask any questions you have about Christian or the delivery or how we made arrangements – anything you might be wondering about, including how I’m coping (or not coping). Even if you’re a total stranger, go ahead. Any question is fair game as long as it’s respectful (so nothing like “How dare you [fill in the blank]?”), and I’ll reply to your questions in the comments. I may also do a separate post with the questions and answers, if I feel like it.
I’m happy to say that the past few days have been incomparably better than Friday was. I expected Mother’s Day to be hard, and it was sad to have that particular reminder of my lost child, but we took flowers to Christian’s grave and I didn’t struggle with emotion while we were there. I was glad to be able to visit (it was my first time back since the burial), and I felt comforted knowing we can go back often. I also started keeping a journal of letters to Christian, which I think will be helpful for me to express my thoughts and feelings a little more intimately than I do here.
We were also able to pick up the pictures from Christian’s birth. Just days ago I think they would have been too hard for me to look at, but because of how much better I’ve felt, I really enjoyed getting them. These were taken by Heather Ellis, who worked with us as part of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
I don’t think I knew what grief was until today. I’m not sure what changed; maybe it was reading last night about a mom who just lost her baby, maybe it’s the shock of the past few weeks wearing off, maybe it’s hormone readjustment. Whatever it was, today has been painful. Compared to what I’ve experienced in the past two months, this hurt more than anything else. I had no clue this was coming or was even possible – how could I possibly feel worse than I did when I found out my baby would die, or than when he actually did?
One thing I’ve been grateful for is that I haven’t felt much anger. I know it’s a common part of grieving but it’s been nice feeling like everything went well as it could have, I wasn’t angry at God for the way things turned out, I didn’t have many regrets. Today I woke up feeling resentful, toward almost everyone and everything.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law sent us a package with a book on grief that I picked up tonight, after hours of crying in agony. I was relieved to read from other parents who’d lost their baby that it’s normal to feel crazy, normal to be angry, normal to feel completely bewildered about how I feel, and that things will eventually get better. Someone described it as the emotional pain coming in slivers instead of in overwhelming waves. The book also talked about allowing yourself to grieve, and while I have tried to be honest in my recent posts, I’ve definitely toned my emotions down so as to not be too depressing or hopeless or heartbreaking.
I realized that I want to talk about this, I just don’t know how. If I’m crying I want to be alone, and if I’m with people, I can talk unemotionally – there’s no overlap where I cry in front of people and actually communicate how hard of a time I’m having. Writing, though, I can handle that.
So I made this list while I cried tonight of things I don’t want to say or feel. I’d like to think that “My baby just died” gives me license to be brutally honest, but let me also point out that because I’m grieving, and going through normal postpartum emotional wackiness, my feelings are not all rational. I acknowledge that. There’s my disclaimer that you should not be offended by anything on this list. Look for a post early next week that is much less self-centered and much more grateful. Disclaimer enough?
I don’t want to say these things or feel this way:
I wish I had been the one holding Christian when he died, not my father-in-law.
I wish everyone [my parents and in-laws] did not have their cameras out at the hospital. It seems selfish of them. I got a real photographer so I could have nice pictures, not so everyone could take blurry iPhone pictures.
I wish I’d had time alone with me and Jarom and Christian before Christian died. I couldn’t talk to Christian, I never said anything to him. At all. I never kissed him and I regret it. I didn’t tell him anything.
I wish I had gotten more sleep or been able to eat. I had nothing left to give by the time Christian was born and I feel like I let him down by not being more present.
I wish other people didn’t say that this was their loss too. It’s mine. I was pregnant, I felt Christian move, I had to deliver him, I had to deal with the physical pain of recovery, I made almost all the arrangements.
I wish I didn’t feel so resentful.
I wish my sister-in-law had been able to come to the burial.
I wish I’d hugged Christian tightly. I was afraid of holding him close and then having to let go.
I wish I was brave enough to actually ask for help. I’m so broken, I can’t function, but I have it in my head that everyone else has gone back to normal life and I don’t want to remind them that my baby died. I’m realizing I need to talk but I don’t want to make other people sad. When I cry I am screaming inside, I can’t do this – I need help – I need help – help help help please. But how can anyone help?
I wish I didn’t know so many people who are expecting healthy babies.
I feel guilty for something wishing I’d never decided to have a third baby. Then I wouldn’t have had to bury a son.
I don’t want to die, I just want to have Christian. I don’t want to die because it means leaving Jarom and Evan and June. But then I’d be with Christian.
I wish I’d made sure the photographer got a picture of just me holding Christian. I wish I’d had her take one from my perspective looking down at him in my arms. I’m afraid I’ll only remember that day from someone else’s point of view.
I wish Evan and June understood that I can’t handle them right now. I wish I could handle them. I feel inferior for not being able to keep up.
I wish I’d brought flowers to the burial.
I wish I were still pregnant and trying to talk Jarom into whatever boy’s name I liked at the moment. I wish I were designing birth announcements and debating whether or not to get an epidural and complaining about swollen calves and wondering why on earth I ever wanted to be pregnant.
I wish I knew how to say all this out loud.
I wish Christian hadn’t died.