Monday, February 18, 2013

an open letter to parents grieving a miscarriage

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Has Experienced Pregnancy Loss
(...actually a real letter i sent to a married couple i never met; i was asked to write to them by a mutual friend.  names have been replaced.)

dear Parents,

your friend, who loves you, told me that you have recently lost your first child, and asked me if i had any advice.  my heart goes out to you, and i am deeply sorry for your loss.  my husband and i also lost three (since the time of this writing, it is now four) children to miscarriage, all right before the end of the first trimester.
i've never been asked before to write directly to someone about it; i write a lot on a blog (www.tummymuffin.net) about it, as i know how isolating grief can be -- especially when it is grief for your unborn child that no one, not even you, got to meet.  i'm so sorry that you are having to mourn the loss of a dream and a future.  it is a real loss.

that is my first thing to say -- don't feel you must minimize or play down your loss.  it is a wrenching thing and no matter what your doctor, well-meaning friends and family, or anyone else says about statistics/commonality/you can try again/etc. the fact remains: you had a baby that you loved, and now you don't.
the next thing is: you do not get over or through the loss of a child.  you move with it.  let your sadness and grief be a healing thing, and give each other room to grieve as they see fit.  Father, you may be frustrated by your inability to "fix" this.  my husband's pain was the most acute over seeing me go through the losses, and was less about the losses themselves.  Mother, you may feel like your body has betrayed you and you've somehow failed all those who were being hopeful for the baby with you, especially your husband.  i think this feeling is common; i most certainly felt that way and many other women i know who have experienced babyloss and infertility say this is how they feel too.  PLEASE! be kind and gentle to yourself -- both the inner you and the outer physical you.  and allow others to be kind and gentle to you too.  you don't need to "tough this out."
next, i would encourage you both to trust each other and trust the strength of whatever it was that put you together and keeps you together.  whether that is good communication, a strong friendship, great sex, enjoying each other's conversation and company, your unconditional trust and love for one another, etc. -- or all of these things -- lean on it, and trust it to hold.  talk about what is happening out loud.  check up on each other.  be very honest about how you are feeling about further potential children.  you can and will be stronger because of this tragedy.
finally, i would strongly recommend that you ritualize/memorialize your baby in some way that is meaningful to you both.  we chose to give our babies names on their due dates and light a candle for them.  for one, we paddled out into the ocean on our surfboards and released flowers on the waves.  for another, we planted a tiny flower in a wooded area.  and for another, we simply sat together in a beautiful space and said our goodbyes out loud.  now we celebrate the short lives of our babies every October 15th, which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day (more info at www.october15th.com, or you can find posts about it on my blog).

oh Parents, your road may feel unbearably long and your world suffocatingly dark right now.  you may wonder if you will ever be happy again, or if you will survive this.  you will.  you will heal, and you will have the stamina to keep walking, and there will be light, which is the love of all those who care for you.  i hope in some way this letter can be a small lantern for your journey.

peace to you.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

happy ending?

well, hello.  sorry it's been such a long time since you've heard me here.  i'm sure you can guess why...

anyway.  thoughts. comments. hmmm.  this is harder than it once was, to listen to and transcribe these pieces of me, the internal me, She Who Has Things To Say.  but i'll try.
i recently received a communication from an old family friend who knew of the Tummymuffin losses but only found out about L/Tummymuffin IV's arrival from this year's Christmas greetings.  she was clearly overjoyed for us; she gushed congratulations and exclaimed, "i'm so glad your story has a happy ending!"
at the time, the comment was unremarkable, but lately it has bothered me more and more. i know it was well-meant, but it has troubling implications.  for those struggling with pregnancy loss and infertility, having a baby is NOT the answer to your pain and grief. it is NOT how you will ever be happy again.  it is NOT the end of your story, or your partner's story, or your journey towards family.  resolution does not come from a full-term pregnancy, a successful IVF, a finalized adoption, a decision to be child-free, or anything in between.
i believe that resolution comes from accepting the grief and committing to the ongoing process of healing.  i believe that resolution comes from learning to hold life with soft hands and knowing what to let go of, and when to let go of it.  i believe that resolution comes from understanding that gratefulness and pain coexist; joy and pain can be simultaneous, and not struggling against that reality.  i believe that resolution is not an ending, it is actually a beginning of being open to and aware of new things.
i am uncomfortably aware that this sounds dangerously like some gooey self-help guest on a bad daytime talk show.  but i am speaking from the hard-earned other side of experience.  not a day goes by that i am not acutely aware of how different the experience of motherhood after loss is from the mainstream messages i hear about parenting a child.  there is less to complain about, less to feel that i've lost of my pre-Tummymuffin life, less to take for granted, less to feel entitled to, less to grasp at, less to worry about.  there is more to savour in the small moments, more to let go of, more to feel wonder about, more to celebrate, more to fall in love with, more to slow down for, more for gratefulness to take root in.  i'm convinced that losing three babies, struggling with getting pregnant, and working through the resulting anger and pain has made the daily experience of mothering a thousandyzillion percent better -- because of the perspective.  now don't hear what i'm not saying -- i would still rather know my first three Tummymuffins on this side of life -- but the experience of not having them has made me a better, different, and stronger mother for their brother.
which i guess brings me to something i said recently to a friend who was looking for advice in dealing with losing a baby to a years-ago abortion; long-buried pain and grief were surfacing in terribly painful ways, and she was wondering if carrying that sadness ever got easier.  i've written here before that grief has no expiration date, but i recalled something i'd just read: it doesn't get easier, but you get stronger.*  do not look for ease.  hope lies in strength, growing secretly inside your crushed heart, showing itself when you least expect it. 
so.  i do not think my story is "ended," it merely continues on -- yes, with a very thrilling chapter about a baby boy -- but oh there is SO much more to unfold.  and so much more room to grow.

 *of course i had to search for the source of this marvelous phrasing; at the time i couldn't remember where the heck i'd seen it.  thanks to The Googles, here is the link to Beth Woolsey's post; wouldn't you know, it was originally said about being a mother...