Guest Post by Keira Sorrells
It has been five years since my daughter Zoe died. She was one of my triplets born at 25 weeks, 5 days. She spent nine of her fourteen months in the NICU. In many ways I have struggled to find my proper place in the bereaved parent community. Unlike many babyloss moms, I had my daughter for over a year. I know what it felt like to hold her, to see her smile, hear her laugh. I watched as she fought for 291 days in the NICU to make her way home. I even have photos and videos that many babyloss moms I have come to know, never got the chance to take. I often feel guilty about this. Even a bit selfish in wishing I had more when those moms did not even get 14 minutes with their babies. I find myself feeling isolated in the loss community, not quite fitting the mold of a babyloss mom but not feeling like a child loss mom either.
The child loss community has felt distant to me because my daughter wasn’t a teenager or an adult. I didn’t send her off to kindergarten this year with her sisters and I have no idea what sport she would end up liking. Questions fill my mind almost daily, wondering if her skin would still feel as soft as it did after her bath, would her thick dark hair have grown into full curls tumbling down her back? What career might she have chosen? Zoe always seemed a mix of her sisters, each of who are emphatically distinct individuals. What would her defining characteristic be?
When my survivors have a classmate over to play I daydream about having all three of my daughters together, every day. At five years out I assumed some of this day dreaming, wanting more and wondering if would dissipate. To some degree it has. But when it comes, the sensation runs deep within my bones. That yearning for something no longer tangible, the physical ache in my arms, the hole in the pit of my stomach, the broken heart…it is all still there.
Five years out I am supposed to be a beacon of hope, right? I’m supposed to be the mom that new loss moms look to and say, “I’m going to be OK. Look at her, she’s OK.” But the truth of the matter is I am imperfect. I have channeled my grief into the founding of two organizations, the Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation, which supports families in and out of the NICU and the Preemie Parent Alliance, which connects NICU and loss organizations around the country. There are those who look to me as a leader standing on a rock of strength, courage and perseverance. Little do they know I often feel I am balancing on one foot, teetering more often than not. I thought this meant I was weak. I thought this meant I was broken, unable to be put back together, unable to be normal again. What I have found is far from that.
The truth is that I am on an ever-changing path of discovery. Everything I thought I knew about myself – my strengths, my weaknesses and my goals for the future – were turned upside down after the premature birth of my girls and Zoe’s death. I am at ground zero. I get to start over. At first, this terrified me. Anxiety over what I was supposed to do with this life as a bereaved mother crept along my spine sending me into a near panic. That uneasiness kept hold of me until I understood there is a liberating choice to be made.
I do not have to be boxed in by who I thought I was before Zoe’s death, nor do I have to be limited by who I think others want or expect me to be. In our world of grief, our greatest supporters will advise us to ignore the pressures of others who tell us to “hurry up and get over it” or not to allow people to put time limits on our sadness. I believe we can expand this advice beyond our specific grief journey. We can choose to let this awful, messy, devastating ugliness of losing a child create within us a beauty and authenticity that may not have been awakened before.
I don’t know who I am yet. I thought the “new normal” everyone always talks about had been established by year two or so. But it hasn’t. I have found that my adventure of understanding and finding out who I am has only just begun and is an integral and vital part of my healing. For the last five years I have defined myself as the Bereaved Triplet Mom. That was the label I attached to myself so everyone would know my daughter died. At least I thought I did that so everyone would know. In reality, I did that for me. I did that to keep me connected to Zoe so I could make myself remember her (fearing I would forget her) and convince myself that she really did exist. Those fourteen months were not one extended dream state. The label grounded me.
But, I have allowed the label to limit me and confuse me with a mixture of beliefs, truths, and lies. I have let it tell me that if I am bereaved I have to be sad a lot. If I am bereaved I have to be strong by now. I must speak about hope, healing, and happiness so other moms will know everything will be OK. If I am bereaved I should know the perfect thing to say to another mom who has lost a baby. If I find myself in a period of depression, then I am dishonoring the true memory of my daughter. I must become an awakened spirit, I must cherish every single day, I shouldn’t get frustrated at little annoyances in life. If I am bereaved and have shown that I’m strong I can no longer show that I have weak moments where I feel broken and beaten down. I must honor my daughter’s memory every moment of every day and if I don’t, I may lose her forever. I may forget her, people will forget her, no one will care anymore. I have allowed the label to keep me stuck, where I am constantly running back to the past and trying to drag it with me into the future, instead of simply allowing my daughter and my loss to be a part of me, but not the whole me.
So where does this leave me now, five years, one month and 17 days since her death? It leaves me as a wife and mother who is human and imperfect, vulnerable and searching for confidence within that vulnerability. It leaves me broken sometimes, but never shattered. Most of all, it leaves me with an unknown path ahead. If I will simply allow my life to progress, rather than trying to form into a mold it may not fit in, I may one day discover who the real, authentic Keira is.
Mom to 25 weeker triplets Avery, Lily & angel Zoe
Executive Director, Zoe Rose Memorial Foundation
Director of Operations, Preemie Parent Alliance
Part time Blogger, Tripled Pink