I’ve always been interested in the stories of inspiration after loss. The stories of resilience, and hope, and healing. Grief is heavy, and after experiencing the loss of our own daughter at 20 weeks I longed for someone to support me in lifting the heaviness.
I needed to hear the stories of other women who had been there, and made it through. I needed to see the proof that time did indeed heal. I needed to know that the despair and depression wouldn’t last forever. And I longed for specific resources, strategies, and support to guide me through the intense emotions.
Seven years ago those resources were slim. Compassion didn’t immediately come from our doctors, or community, or friends. We stood in unknown territory trying to navigate our way through an emotional landscape that was unfamiliar to most of the people we knew and loved.
Author and fellow loss mom, Amie Lands, found many of the same feelings on her own grief journey. Since the loss of her daughter she’s started a non-profit, become a certified grief recovery specialist, and authored a book — all while holding down a full time teaching job.
Today I’m interviewing Amie about her about her daughter, her grief journey, and how the book Navigating The Unknown came to be.
Tell us a bit about you, your story, and your daughter Ruthie Lou.
My husband and I met as young adults and waited 10 years before trying to grow our family. Our daughter was our first child. We named her Ruthie Lou after our grandmothers, Ruth and Lou. She was beautiful. She had a huge head of auburn hair, chunky cheeks that you can’t help but kiss, and the most beautiful blue eyes.
Ruthie Lou was very wanted and a much-loved baby. Her pregnancy was textbook, I loved being pregnant and imagining our life with her. Shortly after her delivery, the doctors noticed that she was not recovering from birth and it took 2 weeks to determine that she had a genetic condition to which there was no cure. The most devastating decision that I have ever made was whether or not to continue life support for our daughter.
Ruthie Lou lived for 33 days. Part of that was in the hospital, and her final two weeks were at a pediatric palliative care facility. Our favorite memories with Ruthie Lou were at George Mark Children’s House. We were supported as a family to enjoy the time that we had with her. We were able to hold her free from tubes and wires, take walks outside, watch the sunset, tell her stories, sing songs to her, sleep together each night and be a family together.
When she died, we were not prepared for the grief we would experience. It was soul crushing and we felt very much alone. Our community rallied around us, but they didn’t know the depths of our pain. It seemed unimaginable that we could survive this loss, so I spent a lot of time reading books and reaching out to other bereaved parents, mostly moms.
What was the most surprising thing to you on your grief journey?
The most surprising thing on my grief journey has been how conflicting emotions could occupy the same space. My heart had never felt so broken, yet I was so proud of our daughter and wanted the world to know her. I felt hopeless with the depth of my grief, yet at the same time honored that I got to be Ruthie Lou’s mom. The world seemed bleak and empty, yet I felt like I could see the beauty in nature for the very first time. I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror, so I decided to get to know the “new” me. The early days of grief were so exhausting, but I chose to turn the loss of my daughter into the birth of who I wanted to be in this world.
What was one of the most important lessons you learned from the loss of your daughter?
The most important lesson that my daughter taught me was LOVE. To love myself, to love others, to share love with the world. I have a greater appreciation for life, for how and with whom I spend my time. Life truly is short, love is eternal.
What was your WHY behind writing your book? How did the idea for a book come to be?
I wrote the book for all the moms who stood in the bookstore, who googled “my baby died”, and who feel so alone in their loss; I wrote this book for me, and my broken mama heart. When Ruthie Lou died, I felt so lost and hopeless. I needed to know that I could survive this loss and that I could still have a life worth living.
As the years progressed, I created a non-profit in honor of my daughter and received training as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Many of the conversations that I have had with other bereaved mamas were so similar. We have had to face unimaginable experiences and decisions regarding our baby(ies). After my girlfriend’s son passed away, I started writing the answers to every question she had, combined with the many others that I had received over the years. Those conversations became the book.
Who is this book meant for?
This book is meant for bereaved parents when they learn that their beloved baby will not survive or whose life will be brief. Ideally, a family would be handed this book at the hospital or their OB office in the moment of diagnosis, whether their baby is in utero or has already been born. This is an immediate guide that can help support early decisions, and allow parents to maximize the time that they have with their baby.
If a parent doesn’t receive this book until they return home, this book is still extremely valuable. Navigating the Unknown can be relevant for the first years, if looking for grief support and how to re-enter the real world without their baby. This book walks them through the grief journey and what to expect in the time that follows the loss of their baby.
I would also highly recommend this book for birth workers, grandparents, friends, and anyone who loves someone facing the devastating loss of their baby. This book will better help them to offer their loved one support.
What’s one of your favorite nuggets of advice, wisdom, or support you like to offer bereaved families?
BREATHE. Breathe when you learn this horrifying news. Breathe through the brief time that you have with your baby. Breathe during the depths of your grief when your arms are empty and ache. And, breathe through the future moments when you are missing your child. Breathe and be gentle with your heart. Tend to your broken heart and BREATHE. You can survive this. I know you don’t want to, I didn’t want to, but you can survive this. You can have a life worth living.
How else are you supporting bereaved families these days?
I am certified in the Grief Recovery Method which allows me to help educate the bereaved how to eliminate the painful emotions associated with grief. I work in small groups and one-on-one with grievers. I am the founder of a non-profit, The Ruthie Lou Foundation. We donate Comfort Boxes to local hospitals for families leaving the hospital without their baby. I work closely with my local hospital as a patient advisor to ensure that other families experiencing this loss are given proper support.
Where can readers learn more about you, the book, and your work in the world?
I chronicle our family’s life experience at www.amielandsauthor.com. There, you can find links to the Ruthie Lou Foundation and my grief recovery work.
I believe in feeding the spirit with lifelong learning, photographic healing, and a glass half full perspective. I'm a coffee addict and an iPhone junkie who thrives on sunshine and light. I look to the sky to feel closer to my first born angel and feel her warmth. You can find me on facebook, twitter, and my blog where I'll nourish your mind, body, & soul with photography tips and inspiration.