My Struggle With “Awareness”

Among it’s various purposes, causes, and fulfilling the love of fall, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The 15th of October, specifically, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

I, as a bereaved mother, am aware of this tragedy of life every. single. day. This isn’t a time where I’m suddenly reminded of the heartache we experienced over three years ago. This isn’t a time where my eyes are opened to new information or developments in infant loss.

This is a time where I know hundreds of thousands of families across the globe are wishing they could change their story.

awareness

Four years ago, we made the announcement social-media official, sharing Little Miss would be a big sister. We had no idea we would bury her baby sister six months later.

One in four pregnancies ends in loss. I didn’t know that until after Harlynn died. I assumed – as do so many other mothers-to-be – if you made it past the first trimester, you were good to go.

Miscarriage. Stillbirth. Trisomy 13. Trisomy 18. Anencephaly. LBWC. Preterm labor. Delivery complications. Uterine ruptures. Placental abruptions. Genetic abnormalities. Disease. Cancer. SIDS. The list is a long one, yet it’s still a list most people aren’t willing to acknowledge exists.

In 2016, continuing on from centuries before us, babies are dying. Thousands, every single year.

And yet we have a month of awareness. A month where sometimes, I feel as though we’re pitied for a time. “Let them drudge up their stories. November’s almost here…”

I struggle with the responsibility of raising awareness of pregnancy and infant loss. I don’t want to scare anyone. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. I wish I still had my naivety. I wish I still thought healthy babies were a given once you were past the 13 week mark of pregnancy. More than that, I wish it were a reality rather than a naivety.

But it isn’t.

I don’t advocate simply for awareness. I don’t air my journey so anyone reading about it can simply be aware I’ve been through hell-on-earth. I don’t advocate for exposure or attention for myself.

I advocate for breaking the cycle. I advocate for praying for miracles. I advocate for doing whatever we find to do to prevent the death of babies. I advocate for research. I advocate for respect. I advocate for information and education and honesty.

Most of all, I advocate for other parents like myself, who are thrust into a world they couldn’t previously comprehend existed. I do whatever I can to ensure they get the care and compassion they need when their entire world has crumbled in an instant. I do whatever I can to make the medical community, funeral homes, social workers, coworkers, friends, family – aware of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of these precious people who just lost their precious baby. I advocate for support and companionship.

If you understood 26,000 babies in the United States alone are stillborn – every. year. – what would that awareness spur within you? Unless you’ve walked through it, probably nothing. It’s another number. Another statistic.

Every year, however, 26,000 little hearts that were beating one moment, stop beating the next. That’s stillbirth alone. Add to it the thousands of other anomalies we lose babies from each year. It’s mind blowing. It seems impossible. Made up. Wrong.

But it isn’t.

Anyone who knows me knows our story. I’m one of the vocal ones. There are thousands of families each year who go silent in their story, however, because they don’t know how else to cope with it.

This October, and every month, I implore you to go easy on these broken hearts. If you can’t understand what these families have gone through, and will continue to go through, don’t place expectations or limitations on their journey. Be their advocates, not their adversaries.

This October, and every month, I pray you’d support pregnancy and infant loss research. I pray you’d support the ones who are trying to prevent these losses from happening, and those who know enough to call these possibilities to attention.

This October, and every month, I ask you to understand everyone you meet has a story. A journey. A struggle. Show extra kindness. Offer extra help. Be encouraging. Look through lenses trying to find ways to serve others, rather than through lenses focusing on flaws or imperfections.

This October, and always, be aware there are a lot of broken hearts in need of a gentle hand.

April Showers: Tears

I didn’t start off on the greatest foot this morning. I somehow managed to hairspray my left eye instead of my hair. It stung a little, but my eyelashes looked amazing the rest of the day.

It’s little, absentminded things I find creeping into my days making me wonder if it’s a subconscious level of emotional protection. April is just around the corner and I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about it. Or if I want to.

When we lost Harlynn, I developed a love/hate relationship with April. That relationship never resolved. I loved and hated how every Wednesday for the remainder of the month, it would snow, just like the Wednesday I delivered her in the hospital room. The white, fluffy flakes silently falling and covering the ground were delicate, yet painful reminders of the life that was supposed to be, but had silently slipped away.

The hope of spring and of new life was met with tumultuous grief and mourning. New life, new growth, and the robin’s songs were traded for death, continuous tears, and sounds of a mother’s and father’s wailing.

On what would have been Harlynn’s first birthday, we had arranged to spread love and kindness in her memory. We also planned a cake-smash photo shoot as a family, since she never had the chance to do one herself. Instead, I was in the hospital again, drugged up on magnesium trying to stop the premature delivery of Little Man.

I don’t remember much of that hospital stay, other than the look on my doctor’s face when she realized his premature labor was coinciding with Harlynn’s day, and the incredible placement (by God) of our incredible nurse, who was also a loss mom. I couldn’t have made it through those days – or even the weeks ahead – without her care and empathy.

Since Harlynn’s first birthday went nothing like we had planned, and since I was moaning in pain and incoherent for most of it, I didn’t have a chance to experience it, grieve through it, or process it, even. My focus only intensified on getting Little Man into this world safely, and alive.

He was born, two weeks later, on the two-year anniversary of Grandma Lena’s passing. Grandma Lena was Brent’s grandma by blood, and my grandma by every other measure. We both loved her so much, and to have Little Man born on the day that marked her passing was bittersweet.

Last year was especially hard on me. With not having the ability or opportunity to process or cope with the first anniversary of Harlynn’s death, last year was two year’s worth of processing rolled into a matter of a few hours. I stayed up until (and then well past) 12:16 a.m., the time of her delivery. I remembered every single detail as best I could. Her weight upon my chest. Her head of hair. Her daddy holding her, longing and outright willing life back into her lungs.

April Showers- Tears

All of the images, the memories, the emotions – joy, pain, sorrow, hope, ache, despair, redemption – flooded over me. I walked into the hallway in the middle of the night, put my hand on her picture on the wall, and wept. I rested my head against the frame and let my tears salt my cheeks as my shoulders shook against the wall. I was a wreck for a few days, holed up in grief and solitude while I tried to work through how any mother is supposed to function as normal when all of her children aren’t with her.

This year, I’m still not sure how I feel about April. For that matter, I’m still not sure how I feel about bereavement. I still, three years later, don’t understand how to be a mother in two different places at once. Here on earth for my living children, and with Harlynn in spirit.

There are some moments – some triggers – that take me right back to a particular feeling or experience in those first few moments and days after she died. There are other times I feel too far removed from those moments. I don’t live in the past, but I don’t reject any opportunity to remember as much as I can about those too few precious moments we got to spend with her.

I miss her intensely. Every moment of every day. My heart flutters every time her big sister mentions her name. I wonder how her little brother will know her as part of our family as he grows older and understands more.

I wonder if I’m changed for the better, or if the changes I’ve experienced since losing her are simply scars of my suffering. Have I grown at all? Has beauty risen from ashes with anything I’ve done since losing her?

When people see me, do they see any semblance of Val? Or do they only see the woman whose baby died?

I don’t have any answers. Three years later, I’m no more knowledgeable of my circumstance or my situation than I was the moment we learned what had happened. I do have more questions. I’m always asking questions.

But through asking the questions I find I’m piecing together a new picture. I’m using the same puzzle pieces, but they fit together entirely differently now. The picture has changed. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s simply a different picture.

I still don’t know how I feel about April. Regardless, however, I can’t seem to stop these April showers of my tears.