From one mother whose child has never taken a breath, to the mother whose child has taken life, I have something I must very simply and plainly tell you:
I see you.
I pumped gasoline. How could I not? I needed transportation.
I ate that lunch meat sandwich. How could I not? I needed nourishment.
I scooped the kitty litter. How could I not? I needed companionship.
I felt guilt even as I justified the things I shouldn’t have done, while I was pregnant with, while I parented, my child.
But I did so many of the things I was supposed to do.
How could I not?
The creation of a child – my child – is such a miracle.
And now my child is dead.
Though my belly did not swell, my heart did, and still does, at the thought of my child.
I am proud of all my child means to this world, but my child’s legacy is not entirely a result of my child’s accomplishments (or tragically, entirely lack thereof) but is a result of my determination and efforts to pursue, identify and carry my child’s legacy forward.
These efforts are thwarted, nay attacked, by my community’s (and sometimes my own) perception of my relationship to my child:
The inquiries into what I surely must have done wrong to have caused this outcome for my child. Such accusations, outright or softly suggested, cut to the quick and leave me feeling defensive.
I wouldn’t dare tell them that I pumped the gas, that I ate from the deli, I wouldn’t dare share my secret list of failings – these and more, available in chronological order, branded onto my heart forever.
The recommendation (nay, the blatant demand) that I forfeit love toward my child.
This to appease the comfort of others and honor the superior status of their feelings over my own, as though feelings can only be dispersed in certain measure, and as though others, for any seemingly socially appropriate reason whatsoever, have permission to narrate my story.
The whimsical suggestion that I ought to simply shrug off the deeply painful work that is the accountability of self-reflection. I can just try again, after all.
These things happen, after all. It’s probably really someone else’s fault, after all. I don’t always want to admit it, but in the quiet of my own, honest heart, where no one else can intrude, I know that I need to pursue self-reflection.
It is not only my responsibility, it is also a privilege of the spiritually capable soul and the morally conscious mind.
I need to know what I missed, so that I can pursue the work of finding peace with the gaps in the history, so that I can more capably step forward.
To the mothers of school shooters, I see you.
I see you, struggling to find a safe place between honoring the enormity of your community’s horror, and feeling totally alone and perhaps even guilty for having, let alone wanting to have, any fond memories of or feelings toward your child.
I struggle with finding peace that I did not kill my child. I feel the fingers of accusation waggling at me as I see children the same age as my own should be.
To the mothers of school shooters, the death of my child who was within me draws my heart toward yours.
When the death of children comes through your child, you will be inundated with the opinions of others.
You will be pressed to narrate your life story according to their thoughts and feelings.
But let it be the children – our children, my child, yours and theirs, who draw you toward the pages of your journey.
My child’s legacy is a result of my determination and efforts to pursue, identify and carry my child’s legacy forward.
But this truth takes precedence: I also have my own legacy.
And so do you. How could you not?
The creation of a child – any child – is such a miracle.
And that includes you.
Don’t forget who you are.
I mean this earnestly, I mean this truly:
You are in danger of losing yourself in the cataclysmic enormity of loss.
When the world speculates that death is a reflection of our parenthood abilities or more plainly, our parenthood faults, pushing us to push anything good about our children, about others, about ourselves away, we need to resist that – you need to resist that, resist that mightily, and remember what is true:
You are worthy and you are capable.
Worthy and capable, of peace, and of healing.
Run, toward healing, run toward it with everything you’ve got.
Those who are devastated by the actions of your child, they too, yet distinctly from you, they too, need to run, mightily, excruciatingly, endlessly, toward healing.
Trust that they too are worthy.
They are worthy and capable, of peace, and of healing.
We all are.
Heidi Faith is the founder of stillbirthday and its headquarters The M0M Center. Stillbirthday is the developer of the Birth & Bereavement Doula® certification and free, printable birth plans for mothers experiencing birth in any trimester, because a pregnancy loss is still a birth, and is still a birthday.