The phone rang at 12:58 a.m. My oldest son, home for a visit from college, was at a local concert with friends. No ability to check caller ID on that particular landline, I was instantly awake, sitting upright in bed…senses heightened. I’m used to the phone ringing in the middle of the night, due to my on call work as a birth and bereavement doula®. But not that phone. Not the landline. Not at 12:58 a.m. My throat tightened as I texted my son to see if he was safe. No answer. I stood up, preparing myself in those moments for what could happen next. Images of police officers in the driveway…or another phone call from a hospital running through my mind.
Then, reality…headlights in the driveway. Not a police car. Just a regular car. I watched my son step out of the vehicle safe. In one piece. Safe. I breathed the long shaky breath I had been holding inadvertently and tears streamed down my cheeks, as I felt relief wash over me. Many mothers would react the same if the phone rang at 12:58 a.m. It isn’t so abnormal to worry. We all fear the worst. We all dread that call.
But, for those of us who have had to watch life slip away in our arms, on an ultrasound screen, in front of our eyes…from the ones we hold most dear, for the mothers who have stood by tiny graves, those jolts of “what if” in the middle of the night are all too real. Too close to home. Too…possible. We know there are no guarantees. We know how fleeting this life is on planet Earth. We know both the preciousness and the fragility of this life.
Most of us can remember the moment. The moment when our innocence was lost. The moment when we are no longer invincible. Before that moment, if you can remember life before…tragedy happens to someone else but not to you.
Until it does. And, nothing is ever the same.
Helen Hunt’s character in the movie Twister speaks of the phenomenon regarding how the destruction of a tornado seems personal. The exchange takes place as she frantically tries to salvage their dangerous attempts to pursue the tornado in order to better predict and warn others about the possibility of tornadic activity:
In one scene, Jo screams: “You’ve never seen it miss this house, and miss that house, and come after you!”
To Jo, the tornado is personal. Loss is personal.
This time, the tornado came for your house…your life. Your child. And, no one could stop it.
It has been many years since those moments that changed everything…first with our twin daughters born still at 26 weeks and second with our son who was diagnosed in the womb with a life limiting condition and lived for six hours after his full term birth. My heart has broken and stitched back together, healing, oozing, scabbing, and scarring. And, life moves along with it’s relentless inertia…regardless of our struggles. Hope lives on in it’s resiliency and joy bubbles up in laughter amongst the tears. Every once in awhile the wounds are grazed and maybe even re-opened to ooze again. But most of the time, life moves forward in the land of new normal, and it is well with my soul.
Even if we are well and mostly mended…those tender places leave us changed. There is a chink in our armor…or sometimes a gaping hole. You’ve heard it said we are walking…but with a limp.
Even though time has passed, that ringing phone in the middle of the night took the air from my lungs for a moment. I’ve heard many mothers share that they struggle with great anxiety after the loss of a baby or child. If they have other children, that anxiousness can manifest itself in various ways. Mothers may hold more tightly to their children…feeling overprotective. Many share about obsessing over “what ifs,” living in constant fear of something happening to their living children, husband, or others they love. Once a mother stands by the tiny grave…the threat of goodbye looms around every corner. The interesting thing for me was how closely that fear lurks beneath the surface…even after all these years.
It is normal to wrestle with some of that fear and anxiety when you have faced your worst nightmare. But, there is a time to try to find some peace and hope. We have to learn to live in the land of the living, after all. I was very overprotective of our oldest son, who at the time of our losses was our only living child. And, when he grew older and started to drive and moved to college, my coping mechanism was and is to pray and live somewhat in denial. I had to put it away in a secret mama-fear lockbox. Because the thought of losing him was too frightening…too much to even go near. And, every goodbye…even if only temporary…stings more deeply for a heart that’s known loss.
The Bible speaks of the folly of worry. It won’t change whatever is to be…and in fact, worry only causes harm. Easier said than done…I know. Some may also wonder how it would bring me peace to pray to the God who allowed my other children to be taken. The answer to that question will have to wait for another post….but for now, I will say…He is also the same God who breathed life into the two children who walk this earth with me…and the same one who lifted me from the darkest pits of despair and kept every single one of my tears in a bottle. If I must live in this broken place, where babies die…I’d rather do it with Him than without.
You may not feel the same…and that’s ok. But, today, I pray for peace for all the mama hearts with worries hidden away in the mama-fear lockbox, the ones trying to catch their breath in the wee hours, and the ones still aching for the babies who won’t show up tonight in the driveway…safe.
Love and grace to you.
Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly’s journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here: www.sufficientgraceministries.org.