I sat on her leather couch and watched her from across the room. It had been more than two years since we last sat like this. Her easy manner and soft-spoken demeanor hadn’t changed.
In some ways, it was as if life had left her untouched. Unscathed.
The same could not be said for me. As I shared all that happened since we last met, she looked at me and said, “It’s like you’ve lived five lifetimes worth of grief in the past two years.”
Seeing a therapist is something I’m neither proud of, nor ashamed of. I don’t think it makes me a warrior or a victim. Just a survivor, holding on to any lifeline I can to make it through this complicated season of both grief and joy — coexisting and fighting for space in my heart.
A complicated grief.
Over the last several years, my body, heart and soul went through a version of hell known as recurrent pregnancy loss.
I call it a version of hell, because pregnancy and infant loss comes in all different forms – stillbirth, late miscarriage, early miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, molar pregnancies, “incompatible with life” diagnoses, SIDS, accidents, maternal and fetal diseases . . . the list goes on.
There are a thousand ways to pay the entrance fee to this club, and no two experiences are ever exactly alike.
My fee for this club included a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, followed by four early miscarriages, and a diagnosis of secondary infertility.
For years, I was prodded and poked. I endured uncomfortable and embarrassing procedures, spent a good portion of our savings on medical bills, and visited multiple specialists.
We almost scheduled surgery to remove a tube, just as one might schedule a manicure or a hair cut. I stopped caring about having my blood drawn, because when you have it done so often, you don’t have the luxury of caring anymore.
I exhausted every possible emotion along this journey, from hope and expectation to despair and depression.
And then . . . I realized I was done. There was more to my life than making babies and losing them. While I yearned for answers, I realized I was owed none. I may be out of control in regards to my fertility, but I could do my darndest to control my happiness in spite of that.
So I determined to move forward.
We already adopted one daughter from foster care, and months after “moving on” from focusing on our fertility, we took in a baby boy as a foster son.
When we received the word about his need for a family, we had very few details. We knew he needed a home and that our foster agency had already called all the families they could. We were the last on the list.
I just couldn’t say no. Instead, we said yes to a completely unknown future with an unknown baby.
He moved into our hearts as quickly as the social workers moved him to our home. What I lacked in biological attachment I more than made up for in a fierce mama bear protectiveness.
With every bottle feed, every night bouncing and rocking him, every gaze into his eyes, I became more and more his mom. And he became my son. Our lives, our hearts, the fabric of our beings became so interwoven, that there was no longer any idea of us and him.
We were just simply family.
We loved and lived with that little boy for a year and a half. And then, as quickly as he came into our lives, he was taken out of it. One moment, he was our son. The next, he was back in his biological family.
It was a loss unlike any I had ever experienced.
A complicated joy.
Just three months after our foster son left our home, I found out I was pregnant. And this time . . . our baby was making it. At least, so far.
Such a short amount of time to face both the unraveling of one relationship and the intimate formation of another.
With this pregnancy came an expectation that I should only be grateful and happy. And I was — grateful and happy. But when grief tried to work its way through, I shut it out and I shut it down.
Perhaps I feared that grief would steal the joy that was finally given to me after all these years of trying, and all this loss. “What right do I have,” I wondered as this baby made it day-by-day, “to be anything less than grateful?”
And yet, the grief was always there, at the backdoor of my heart. Knocking, knocking, knocking and refusing to be ignored. And that is what brought me back into therapy.
“Holding space . . .” my therapist starts, bringing me back from the depth of my memories. “Holding space in your heart for the grief, as well as the joy, is never easy. Our culture doesn’t do it well. We think we can feel only one emotion, or the other. Not both. It’s as though we’re afraid one will cancel the other out.”
How often have I feared just that. That if I found happiness in my current circumstance, I was forgetting the children I needed to grieve. And if I gave in to grief, I would forget the hope, albeit a still tenuous one, I feel with this new baby on the way.
A complicated season.
This tug-of-war between remembering and holding onto hope is only magnified during October — the month in which we collectively recognize our children gone too soon.
In the past, this month was a time of comfort. A community surrounded me who welcomed my pain, and I in turn welcomed theirs. We joined together to honor our lost babies, and remember our lost dreams for them. It was as if I were finally free to express everything I felt and was holding in.
But this October is different. Almost as though I’m an outsider looking in. Mostly because I am scared. Scared that if I read stories of others’ losses, it will somehow jinx my own current joy. Scared of others’ reactions if I am thinking of the child that was gone from me, even though he isn’t gone from life. Scared to acknowledge that my grief over the babies I lost to early pregnancy loss has started to resolve, and doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming. Scared that I will hurt other members of our community because of my current pregnancy. Scared that my own pregnancy might still end.
Where are you this October?
Maybe this is your first October since your loss, and you are relieved that the greater community is validating your feelings of grief. Maybe you are looking forward to joining others in lighting your candle during the October 15 Wave of Light. Perhaps you have planned how you will honor your little loves either in community, on social media, or privately with your family. Maybe your grief feels welcome. Maybe, you finally feel like you belong.
Perhaps, like me, you’re unsure of how you feel. Do you question the validity of your grief, or your membership in the baby loss club?Perhaps you are expecting a subsequent child after your loss, and you’re still struggling to hold space for both your grief and your joy. Maybe your grief feels resolved for the most part, and all this remembering is bringing up feelings you thought you had already dealt with. I wonder if you are anxious about how your family and friends will receive your grief this month. Will they honor it with you? Or will they invalidate it, based on the circumstances surrounding your loss, or perhaps how much time has passed since then?
No matter where we all are, I hope we can find ways to hold space in our hearts for every emotion — knowing that any joy in our lives does not cancel out the grief. Nor does grief cancel out joy.
And most of all, I hope that in this community and during this month, we are holding space for each other.
Space to remember our babies the way we need to remember.
Space to feel every emotion that comes with a complicated grief and joy.
Space to look back and move forward at the same time.
We give each other this space because, as bereaved moms, we are not so much warriors. And we’re not so much victims. We’re all survivors. And one way we get through child loss is by holding out lifelines to each other.
How are you holding space this month for all your emotions? How are you holding space for others?
Rachel Lewis is a foster, adoptive and birth mom. She lost her second baby she named Olivia to a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, and had 4 miscarriages in the following 4 years. On the journey to becoming a family, she gave birth twice (once to a rainbow), adopted a precious daughter and fostered and released a darling son after a year and a half. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids around, you can find her shopping at Trader Joe’s, drinking coffee, or writing about her journey as a mom at www.TheLewisNote.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Thelewisnote. And join her online support group for bereaved and infertile mamas at Brave Mamas, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1657136001012257/