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.

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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.

#rememberingHarlynn

October was a little rougher for me than I remember it being previously. I spent the first half of the month preparing emotionally and otherwise for the memorial service Harlynn’s Heart was putting on for our community of bereaved parents.

Once the dust settled from the memorial, I was left with a lot of time to focus on what it really was to not have Harlynn with us. I allowed myself to “go there” in ways I hadn’t allowed myself to for whatever reason. It was emotional, but it was healing in a lot of ways. Having the freedom to just think of her in whatever ways presented themselves was freeing. Tender, even.

I posted some pictures and thoughts on Instagram, but for those of you who may not be addicted to interested in that app like I am, I thought I’d share those here. I used the hashtag: #rememberingHarlynn

I always appreciate being able to share her with the rest of the world – and these posts were a little peek into my heart of what goes through my head and heart when I’m especially missing her. Thank you for always letting me share. #rememberingHarlynn

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The last warm day of fall. The last mowing of the lawn before snowfall. The last activity of basking in sunlight before threat of frostbite. Today, these last moments linger with palpable weight on my soul. She isn’t here. My last moments with her were also my first. Those last, precious moments before we were forced to embrace our stark reality. And now, a new season knocks at our door. I don’t know the strength it bears. I don’t know the gentleness it may surprise me with. I don’t know what it holds. But I have to open the door. I have to feel it. Experience it. Live it. Until its last moments give way to yet another season. And while the seasons cycle and some experiences seem commonplace, there is always a wind that knocks me down. A shiver that shakes my core. A warmth that revives my being. A seed that brings new growth. Life will never be what it would have been, but it will be what God allows me to make of it. No matter the season, no matter the time, she will always be a part of it. She isn’t here, but she is. She always is.#rememberingHarlynn

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Last night I went to visit Harlynn and her angel nightlight put on a little show for me. God reminded me in order for light to shine, it overcomes darkness. We have been through some darkness since losing her, but we have also basked in the light. His light. He has overcome already, and no amount of darkness can snuff Him out. His word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Harlynn helped me have that special reminder moment last night. xo #rememberingHarlynn

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Snuggled up on the sofa this rainy day under my favorite quilt. I’ve never liked the colors or even the pattern. But we received it as a gift when we went to Faith’s Lodge. It is a part of what we have to remember Harlynn. It keeps me warm. I love its weight. I love the memories it brings forward from our time at the lodge and the precious parents we befriended while there. Just as I wouldn’t have chosen this quilt for myself but have grown to appreciate it, I wouldn’t have chosen this journey in life. This path without Harlynn. But I have grown to appreciate her so much more. Appreciate her siblings and daddy so much more. I wouldn’t have chosen it, not ever, but I am strangely comforted by the weight I carry from it today. By the warmth her memory brings me. By the memories that flood my soul having to do with her. #rememberingHarlynn

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Yesterday we took a little seasonal spruce to her site. “A pumpkin for our Pumpkin” I kept saying. There is no season that sends me reeling so far or brings me comfort so tangible as autumn. I hate to love it some days. The truth is there is no season so beautiful. No season so vibrant. No season so breathtaking. Before life goes dormant, it gives everything it has to make beauty. To pour out everything it has of itself. To surround us and fill us with familiar comforts. This is how I feel about her. Before she died, she gave me beauty. Vibrance. Comfort. Then, in the same way the last leaf drops to the ground, she slipped away before I was ready. Fall. Sometimes I hate to love it.#rememberingHarlynn


Follow Val on Instagram: @nodakval

Why Remembering Matters

It’s more than simply not forgetting. Forgetting is impossible. There are times I’ve wished for all of it to be untrue. For it never to have really happened. For this not to be the way my life exists. But it is. And I will never forget. But more than never forgetting, I will always make a valiant effort to really remember. Remembering matters – it gives life and voice to those who never had one.

Why Remembering Matters

I remember her movements. I remember how strong she was compared to her older sister. I remember my cravings for chocolate donuts. And Funyuns. Not at the same time, though there were occasions they were consumed in the same sitting. I remember the heartburn. (Probably from the Funyuns.) The sleepless nights because I couldn’t get comfortable. I remember the morning sickness that lasted until I was nearly 18 weeks along. I remember the sciatica that dropped me to my knees on more than one occasion.

I remember picturing what kind of little sister she would be. Would she have curly hair like her mama? Would she be a snuggler like her big sister or more of an independent soul? I remember how excited I was to introduce her to her namesakes and have them watch her grow up, being the ever-present reminder in her life of the “village” who loved her parents – – and her.

I remember when the doctor said, “I’m so sorry….”

I remember when my water broke. When they laid her on my chest. How the room was enveloped in silence. No baby cries. No squeaks. No coos. Silence.

I remember praying I would wake up from the nightmare I was having. There was no way any of this could be real.

I remember feeling God’s presence in our hospital room. I remember looking up and being surrounded by people who loved us – who ached with us. I remember the doctors hugging me. I remember the nurse who told us she’d been praying for us all day. I remember the longest walk of my life, from the labor and delivery door to the elevator. Without my baby.

I remember my best friend walking up the driveway, after driving 700 miles to be there by my side. The memorial. The burial. The loneliness. The sobbing that shook my whole body. The questions. The Google searches. The anger. Rage, even. Hurt. Bitterness. Compassion. Tenderness.

I still remember it all. What comes to the forefront of my mind, however, is her dark hair. Her cheeks. Her perfect fingers and toes. Her mini-me features that rendered her a spittin’ image of her big sister. How much love we showered her with in those moments as we held her. As we prayed for life to miraculously return to her heart and lungs. I remember clutching her in my arms. Smelling her. Kissing her. Loving her.

I remember our Harlynn.

And it’s important to remember her. April 10th, 2013, there were 70 additional stillborn babies delivered in the U.S. Seventy other families affected by stillbirth alone, that day. Then there were mothers who miscarried. Who received a fatal diagnosis on the baby or babies they carried. Parents who said goodbye to their babies in the NICU for the last time.

It’s important to remember all of them. Our world stopped spinning while it seemed everyone else’s carried on. Only now do I realize there were other families who had their world stand still the same day. The same week. The same month. So many families.

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. The 15th is Awareness Day, and the “wave of light”, lighting a candle in remembrance of all the babies gone too soon.

We, as Harlynn’s Heart, organized a memorial service for the 15th. We lit candles and spoke our babies’ names aloud. We congregated in the safety of community. In the comfort of familiarity. In solidarity.

And we all remembered. Not because we can’t forget, but because we embrace any and every opportunity to breathe life into the legacy of our children. Because remembering them shows the world they existed. They matter. They live on through us.

Here is a video of some of the babies we were able to remember and honor last night. Please remember them with us.