Months ago, I was having a discussion with an expecting colleague. I was explaining how Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth changed my life. I offered to loan it to her so she could read the science and experiences of natural childbirth. The book had strong sentimental value, but in an effort to loosen up, I loaned it out. Reece Michael was our last baby and a book on childbirth wasn’t doing me any good sitting on a shelf.
About three weeks later, I arrived to work on Monday to a Snapchat video she had made. She was giggling and couldn’t wait to show me what others had already watched. I watched a video of her discovering papers scattered across her living room. Her dog had strong feelings about welcoming a baby into the family, she said on video. The book flipped over to reveal Ina May’s Guide. My book. The book I read with wonder and excitement as I grew and carried my first son. The book that powered me through the birth with my second son. The book that I had only just begun reading again when Reece compressed his cord and died. My book was in gooey dog shreds across her floor.
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I did my best to keep color in my face and left for my office, saying nothing. Later, after gathering much courage, I approached my colleague and explained what the book had meant to me and if I could have the remains of it. She was remorseful, having realized how insensitive she had been about the destruction. But she was sure the book was in the trash by now.
I shuffled away with heavy heartbreak. I couldn’t believe the week getting any worse. In just two days, we would honor Reece’s birthday and just weeks before that, we had said goodbye to our family dog of ten years. Losing my cherished book to a clueless expecting mother was the painful cherry on top.
It was days later, having taken the day off work for Reece’s birthday, that she approached me with a note and a bag full of remains. It wasn’t much, but it did a little to soothe my aching heart.
At home, in the space I had refurbished from nursery to writing room, I sat down at my desk. I had properly vented my anger and was ready to see what had been done to the item that held the last of my best pregnancy memories. I spread out the book.
The damage was extensive. I mourned the loss, knowing it was more than a book. I could physically see my innocence about pregnancy being simple and straightforward in shreds. This book was a visual representation of what had happened to me psychologically after Reece’s death. It was brutal, ugly, gnarled, and had no hope of being a regular book ever again.
With a little creativity, I knew I could make something new and beautiful from the wreckage. Just as I do when honoring my son and being authentic in my grief, I could make beauty come from destruction.
The Japanese have a name for repairing broken pottery and highlighting the breakage with gold paint. It’s called kintsugi and an important part is understanding that the pottery is more beautiful for having been broken. Now it had a history, a story to share.
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So I went to work with the help of creative friends who would guide my process.
I saw my own heart clearly. Pulsing, beating, but undeniably broken.
As I carefully carved the linoleum block, I was awash in a calm meditation. When I finished days later, I knew my prints would be best in color.
Red and blue were obvious choices for a heart.
As I continued to work, it occurred to me that my practice carving of an oak leaf could be printed in pink and blue. The colors of Infant Loss Awareness.
I was sure to stamp my pink and blue leaf right across the page titled “What You Least Expect While Expecting.” Like having your baby die before birth. Pretty unexpected.
Other pages I stamped included key advice that impacted my life like “Hire a Doula”or “Coping with Post Partum Depression.”
Finally when I felt like I was done, I sat back and admired the completed process. That day was an important day: December 22, what would have been Reece’s due date two years ago. I let a few tears roll and cleaned up my space.
Once at home, I could work the gold through the print.
Slowly, over the last two years I have carefully rubbed gold into the cracks, pulling the chipped edges of my heart back together.
I won’t ever be back to who I was before Reece died. I am living the art of kintsugi. I am more beautiful for having been broken, the most gold pieces inside my heart.
Arica Carlson is married and mothering three little boys, two on Earth, one in Heaven. When she isn’t writing or working, she can be found outside with her family.