I spend a lot of time holding grief in my hands, turning it over, looking at it from all kinds of angles— re-examining how it has affected my life, my childrens' lives, my husband's life.
I am not that old, but at thirty-six have experienced two significant enough deaths to know something about it. First, the death of my father when I was five years old. Secondly, the death of my daughter, who was stillborn last summer. Both have shaped me, affected me and transformed me in ways that have, I believe, made me into a better person though certainly not without the pain and sorrow that comes from losing people we love.
My father's death has haunted me and followed me around every since I was a small child. I used to fantasize about his return, making up stories of how he was on a ship, far, far away and I knew that as soon as he could, he'd return. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to see the gifts that his death brought me. And it wasn't until about six months after my daughter, Grace's stillbirth, that I was able to notice the gifts she continues to bring me.
Americans are generally afraid of death, afraid of talking about it, afraid of reading about it, afraid that in acknowledging it, we are somehow ignoring life. We have created such a complete separation of the two—birth and death—as if they are not mutually exclusive.
When it comes to death, especially infant loss, we are often told to keep the grief within ourselves, or at least this is the feeling conveyed after two or three or six months of grieving. It seems like people retreat to corners of our lives, whispering and pointing: Isn't she over that yet? Or even worse, Well, I'm sure you can have another baby some day. One friend who experienced the loss of her baby was even told by her mother that the name they picked out for him was so beautiful that she should be able to name her next son that. That example alone shows how little people can really understand about infant loss.
Of course, I can't walk up to a pregnant woman and tell her my baby died last year? Still, I do have that desire. I want each and every woman to know that my baby, my daughter was stillborn on June 1, 2003—that Grace was a living, breathing human being inside of me for 32 weeks. That she lived and died inside of me. That her life was no less significant than that of my other son or daughter.
I remember taking my first Bradley classes nearly seven years ago, and in the fifth or sixth class, the teacher broached the subject of “infant death.” We all held our breath; the room became quiet. We glanced at each other secretively and furtively. And then when she was done with her ten minutes spiel, we all breathed easier and went back to the issues of breathing and technique.
Seven years after that first class I find myself telling people that I indeed have three children, two are living and one sweet girl is not. I have a desire to validate Grace's life, to make sure that people know she existed and that to us she still matters. Grace is one of our children.
is a topic that many people
shy away from, that I sometimes
shy away from, but it is
real and it happens and
we need to not let our
fear of it keep us from
talking about it.
That is why if you ask me, I will let you know that I have three children, a son and two daughters. And I am proud of this fact and I am happy to talk to you about Grace, to tell you about my grief—how it has shaped and transformed me, how it has made me into the person that I am today. How grateful I am for the rest of my life to have this experience. Yes, I miss Grace. Yes, I would do anything to get her back. Yes, I can collapse into tears if something reminds me of her and even though the tears come less often, the tears are okay. It is okay for me to cry, and it is okay for me to share my experiences with you.
It is because of Grace and because of all the stillborn and miscarried infants in the world that birth truly is a miracle. That the babies we hold and love and nurture truly are miraculous.
Last night, I lay in bed with my son, Carver, and told him his birth story. It is one of his favorite stories that I tell him, but I don't think I've repeated it since Grace was stillborn last summer. As if speaking of the beauty of his birth would somehow diminish my experience with Grace. When I told him the story, I was overcome with joy, with wonder at the loveliness of his life, at my absolute fortune of having him and his sister, Sophia with us, and finally I was reminded of Grace and how her life however short it was, was still a life—a life worth sharing and talking about, a life worth knowing.
I wonder how changed my life would be if my father had lived instead of died when I was five years old. I'm often envious of my friends who still have a father; there is always a place inside of me that aches and longs for him. There is always a place inside of me that aches and longs for Grace. It is this aching that has become a part of who I am; I am not whole, but it is also this brokenness that continues to make me who I am, that transforms me, that completes me. I am willing to let it take me wherever it will.