When Eve, my first child, died inside of me, I felt lost and afraid.
What would become of me, of my marriage?
Could I survive my daughter’s stillbirth?
Where was God, and why did He let my only child die?
Most importantly, who was I now that this gift of a daughter had been snatched so cruelly and inexplicably from me?
In the end, I did survive Eve’s birth, although it was the most horrible thing I have ever had to do, birthing her dead body into this world on November 20, 2011. My marriage is standing strong, and God has made His presence in the midst of my grief obvious. I am grateful for these things . . . but I still struggle with who I am, with what my identity is now that stillbirth has robbed me of something (and someone) so precious.
Pregnancy and birth, reproduction – these are basic things that it seems any human couple should be able to accomplish. And yet my pregnancy, that blissful time of growing and waiting and expecting the new person growing within me, failed. It did not bring about life. The only thing I birthed was death.
And so I wondered, and still wonder, am I a mother? Am I a woman? Am I even still human?
These are questions that I do not know the answers to. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.
If a mother is someone who creates, what do you call a person whose only pregnancy ended with tears and sorrow and pain? With an empty crib and piles of little girl clothes that will never be worn by the baby they were bought for?
Creativity has helped me to survive this feel of exclusion, of non-motherhood, non-humanity.
It began the day after we arrived home from the hospital, with arms empty except for a few precious memory tokens. I felt a pressing urgency to do, to create. So I got out my camera and began photographing the only possessions I owned that held any importance to me at the time – the casts of Eve’s hands and feet. I photographed them, and every single item in the memory boxes our sweet nurses had put together for us, then immediately uploaded them to my computer and edited them before sharing them with the world.
Although it did not take away the confusion or the emptiness that follows in the wake of stillbirth, sudden and unexplained, taking photos did help me feel better in some way. Like I had done what little mothering of Eve that I was able to do.
Not many weeks later, I took our dogs to hike some nearby trails. I had walked these same trails countless time when pregnant with Eve, and my first return to the well-worn paths shocked me with the pain it brought. I had shared this place with Eve, one of the few places I would ever share with her, even if it was in a limited way. And so, feeling again that urgent need to capture the small handful of memories I had with Eve, I photographed nearly every step of those trails. And again I felt comforted.
The mixed media art that I create and the writing I do on my blog have also brought comfort, although of a different kind. I returned to art-making just days after Eve’s death and birth, seeking a way to process my loss and grief, and began blogging regularly after a few weeks. Both helped. I wrote and painted out my confusion, my fear, my sorrow, my anger, and my questions. I did not find any answers in the process, but I did find some measure of the peace that comes from entering in, from feeling the feelings and letting them change you.
So who am I now that the precious daughter who would have been the result of the most profound act of creation that I could ever do has died? Am I a woman? A person? I still don’t know. But I do know that I can create lovely photographs and pieces of artwork that comfort me, honor Eve, and encourage others walking a similarly tragic path.
It is not enough, not enough to make up for losing Eve (as if anything ever could), but it is something. Something important, and something good.