One day my four-year-old and I were playing in the kiddie pool by ourselves when she jokingly said, “You got your friend there?” Half kidding and half truthfully I replied, “Yep, two of them! The friend on this shoulder is my angel Josie and my other shoulder is my angel, James.” My daughter knew exactly who I meant: her brother and sister, our two babies who passed away before she was born. She then corrected me and told me that James and Josie are on one shoulder and God and Jesus are on the other shoulder—rather deep for a four-year-old, I thought.
Unexpectedly, in her toddler accent, she concluded with, “Your body is a cemetery, Mommy.” All could think was, Wow, if that isn’t the sad truth of it!
You see, my husband and I struggled with infertility through the “trying” phase. Every month I would get my hopes up that we might be pregnant. And month after month my body continued to fail me. No one can understand the self-contempt one feels through infertility unless you have lived it. Every month my womb was, essentially, a cemetery.
I’ve never been overly proud of myself, confidence is not a word that was ever in my personal repertoire. So when we finally did get pregnant, life felt back on track. I told myself that I was through blaming my body- Who cares how you got here? You are here now and that’s all that matters. You are growing a baby, be proud of everything your body is doing.
That mantra lasted exactly 23 weeks and 5 days until my stillborn son James was born. Losing a child is devastating, heartbreakingly painful, and many say the hardest thing anyone could go through. That was all true, but I also felt as if any reclaimed self-esteem and positive self-image disappeared.
I loved my stillborn son more than anything else in the world. I was proud of him – he was the most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on. Somehow even with that great amount of love, I couldn’t summon even a drop of love to give back to myself for helping create and grow him.
All I wanted was a baby to hold in my aching arms. In spite of my self-contempt, I became pregnant again. I tried desperately to love my growing baby bump one more time, even buying the pregnancy journal titled, The Belly Book. I documented my growing abdomen each week and praised my body for doing what it should. I wanted my baby more than anything, yet the person carrying that child was broken into a million pieces deep inside.
Sadly, once again, I went into pre-term labor and our daughter Josie was born prematurely. She was born too small to survive, and four days after her birth she passed away.
At that point, my self-hatred was at an all-time high. If this were counted as a sports game, I was 0 for 2. Twice pregnant, and both times my body failed to carry our baby to term. The first time I called it a fluke and got back on the horse. The second time, in my mind, proved I was right. My years of self-contempt were confirmed; I was not worthy of love. I internalized that mindset more than I ever had before.
At this point, I have never given birth to a thriving baby. I often wonder if I were to do that, would a successful pregnancy help my self-esteem and self-confidence? Instead, through counseling, yoga, mindfulness, and love from my family, I have come a long way in the past seven years. My constant self-doubt remains, but I am learning to accept myself for who I am. I have worked hard through trauma and grief to find healing. Each day is still a struggle, and more often than not I overcome the self-contempt and choose acceptance.
As my daughter uttered the words, “Your body is a cemetery, Mommy,” I hesitated, wondering what she meant.
In that moment rather than reverting to self-contempt, I chose to love myself. I chose to see her words not as a criticism, but rather as a tribute.
Cemeteries, after all, are places of reverence. They are a space to remember the good memories and honor the lives buried within. My body can be that garden of remembrance for my babies. I can be a place where anyone can come to remember James and Josie, a place where pride in having grown two beautiful children is nurtured, and where devotion to their memory is everlasting.
Photo courtesy of Pixabey via Pexels
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