I never predicted that bereaved motherhood would be my life. I didn’t even always want to be a mother. When I was younger, I often felt awkward around kids. Still, I somehow always drew them to me. In family photos from our long weekend reunions, I always have at least one cousin climbing on my lap. Several of them followed me around continuously at extended family gatherings. They were an adorable alien species I didn’t quite understand.
By the time I found out I was pregnant, though, things had changed. In my late twenties, my mostly non-existent desire for children turned into a biological yearning. Most of my friends already had kids, and I adored them. I found them interesting, wise little people in touch with something we adults have often lost in ourselves. I couldn’t wait to have one of my own.
My friends were ecstatic for me to join the ranks of motherhood with them. I’ve never seen so many people excited about a baby, as they were about Zoë. And I was, too. Being pregnant felt natural after all. Like I was born to do it.
I never imagined that at the end of my pregnancy, bereaved motherhood is what I would be initiated into. After a baby shower and blessingway, and a full 40 weeks of pregnancy, I just wasn’t prepared for that outcome.
If I heard the term, “stillbirth,” before I had Zoë, I don’t remember it. I believed if I took good care of myself during my pregnancy, and did everything I was told, things would turn out okay. So I ate right, walked every day, and practiced prenatal yoga. I trusted the power of positivity, visualization, and prayer. Every evening, I listened to guided meditations and envisioned an easy, natural birth. I pictured the position my baby needed to be in. Every day, I spoke to her, reassured her, and told her how much I loved her.
I don’t regret doing those things. They fostered a relationship with my daughter, infused with love and care. But you definitely won’t hear me say, “Everything happens for a reason” ever again. Or, “Just think positively.” I don’t believe we can always control what happens to us by our behavior or state of mind. Good things don’t always happen to good people. I wish it worked that way; I just know from experience that it doesn’t.
Life After Loss
My friends all still have kids. And I’ve yet to have the opportunity to try again. They’ve had their trials and challenges, too, though. Divorce, health issues, miscarriages, living in war zones – I’m not the only one who’s had difficult circumstances to overcome. So, I don’t begrudge my friends the joy their children bring into their lives, even though I long for the same. Bereaved motherhood has been my cross to bear, but it could’ve easily been another trial. There are very few of us who aren’t given something to struggle against in this life.
Living with the grief of bereaved motherhood feels like learning how to surf. I have to learn the tides, respect the ocean, find a tenuous balance between control and surrender. I really have to use my core muscles. Time and practice have made me better at riding the waves of grief, but it didn’t come easily. The days where I’m on top, I feel free. The exhilaration of fresh air, sunlight, and joy running through my veins can be heady. But sometimes, I still wipe out.
Stronger than Grief
I remember holding Zoë in the hospital, the morning after I gave birth. The brilliant summer sun shone in through my hospital window where I lay holding my still, silent baby girl. She wore a pink, knit cap I received at my baby shower. She was bathed, diapered, and swaddled in a clean, pink blanket. The nurses had done their rounds, and my family had not yet arrived for visiting hours. I was alone. I could almost pretend she was only sleeping, that these precious early morning hours were all ours. That soon she would wake and want to nurse. In my fantasy, the last 24 hours had been just a bad dream.
Only I knew that wasn’t true. My beautiful, perfect daughter was gone. But in that moment of sacred silence, with the sun streaming in on us, I knew that I would survive. My heart was broken, and I would never, ever be the same. But I would survive. Bereaved motherhood is not what I prepared for. I didn’t choose this. But it is my life, all the same. And there’s something in me that is stronger than loss. It’s stronger than heartbreak and the unimaginable grief of losing a child.
I believe that thing is Love.
How has bereaved motherhood changed you? What moments have pulled you through?