Hi, new friend.
I want to share some things with you that I’ve been learning since first becoming a mama. Before that, though, I feel that you should know a bit about me and the perspective I have.
Two years ago, my motherhood journey began with the news that I was expecting my first child, a daughter, Ava. On November 16, 2015, I went into labor prematurely at 25 weeks gestation and Ava passed away shortly after I gave birth to her.
Thus began my grief journey.
One day I was planning my daughter’s nursery, reading parenting books, and admiring my baby bump. The next, I was asked if I’d given any thought to ‘burial plans’ or if I wanted my baby’s body to be autopsied. I simply could not wrap my mind around what was happening. Sometime, I will tell you more about Ava’s birth and death. For now, I want to offer a framework for my experience as a mother.
After my girl was taken from me, I was medicated heavily for severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. My days were spent in appointments with a therapist, psychiatrist, general practitioner and OB/GYN. Grief groups. Church groups. People who loved me and meant well, but didn’t have the faintest clue what to do with me. I didn’t blame them. I didn’t know what to do with me either. I was sedated at night, but still dreamed of my little girl. Still woke to find my breastmilk had come in, because my poor body also didn’t know what in the world was happening.
I was encouraged to take medical leave from work, in order to devote my attention to healing and caring for myself.
I spent my days consumed with anger, sadness, and paralyzing anxiety.
I couldn’t go in the grocery store and risk seeing a mother with her child.
I couldn’t watch movies; couldn’t go to the farmers market, because, I would be bombarded with happy, whole families.
I couldn’t go to church because I couldn’t put on makeup and fix my hair and smile. I went for a lot of walks, ate a lot of ice cream, read a lot of books, and spent many hours in my therapist’s office.
Nearly every day, I wound up pulled over in a parking lot sobbing. Cries like I had never cried before, from the depth of my being. I hated the sun for still shining. I wanted to punch anyone who told me that ‘God needed another angel’ or ‘you can always have another baby’. I could barely pray, and when I did, those prayers were REAL TALK and typically involved me cursing at God. (I learned that that’s okay. God can handle my anger.)
At my lowest point, I sincerely wanted to die. The weight on my heart was so heavy and so constant; there was never a break from the sorrow. Nothing brought me joy. Nothing made me laugh. Everything hurt. I had 9 prescription bottles lined on my dresser, beside a framed photo of myself and Ava’s dad holding her before saying goodbye. If this was my new reality, ‘life as I knew it’, I wanted no part of it.
I was so very tired.
Three months after my little girl died, I conceived my son, Silas. Silas saved my life, pure and simple. In no way did he replace Ava. But, he brought hope and purpose. A reason to wean myself from most of those medications that were dulling my spirit. To eat healthily and to start taking care of myself again.
The promise of life inside my body was enough motivation to get myself out of bed, to reach out to good people that I desperately wanted to surround myself and my baby with. To slip out of my sadness and face my anger. To take control of my life and my pregnancy. It was beautiful and scary. For the first time in my life, I fully understood HOPE.
Before my experience, I had never heard of a ‘rainbow baby’ (a rainbow baby is a child born after the loss of another child; a symbol of hope after a dark storm). I did not know the alarming statistics of pregnancy and infant loss in the United States. I wasn’t aware of how many women live daily with silent wounds that they typically keep to themselves.
To say that Ava and Silas changed me is an understatement.
My life is forever divided into two chapters: before and after. My son is 7 months old and we are thriving in the after. I am learning to be his mom, while still grieving my first child and trying to honor her with my life. I am learning that joy and sorrow can coexist. That I can cherish Silas’ firsts, while aching for Ava’s ‘could have been’. It is a delicate balance and a daily struggle.
But I have joy again. Joy like I’ve never known. My boy’s eyes glisten with love and hope, and my heart feels peace.
If you are a woman who has experienced loss, if you are a mama who lives with a mental illness, I want you to know I see you. I know you and I have so much love for you.
I won’t tell you anything trite like ‘everything happens for a reason’. I will tell you that there is hope. You are resilient and capable of more than you can imagine. Where ever you are at in your own motherhood journey today, I want you to know that there is an after.
Thank you for listening, sweet friend. I can’t wait til we talk again.
A Mom in the After