Four years ago right now I just found out I was VERY unexpectedly pregnant with our fourth child. Three years ago right now my husband had just moved 600 miles away while I stayed behind with our four small children to pack up our house and finish out our lease. Two years ago we were in the throes of helping our children adjust to life after the big move, and starting to look ahead toward buying a house and starting our homestead dreams on our own land. One year ago we were moving through what had been the hardest year of our entire lives, both separately and together. I was beginning to come out of the deep hole of of PTSD that had enveloped me after the traumatic loss and birth of our son, followed a few short weeks later by a serious car accident in which my husband sustained permanent spinal injury, and all in all my brain became certain that everyone around me was dying. One year ago we were fast approaching what had been our son's due date- a day I had been dreading since we lost him. Few people who have not experienced the loss of a child during pregnancy realize what a hard thing the due date is. That day that once held such anticipation of joy and bliss becomes a looming reminder on the calendar that you're no longer pregnant, that your baby was born already, and instead of this great anxious anticipation you instead have empty wombs and empty arms.
What surprised me about my due date coming was the emotional relief I felt after it had passed. Yes, the day was sad. It was another heart-wrenching reminder of how we missed our son, but it was also an end to the waiting. It was like I'd been holding my breath since January 29th, waiting for that due date to come, and after it had passed I could suddenly breathe. I was no longer waiting. I had made it through that painful day, God had STILL sustained me, I had not collapsed in on myself and disintegrated under the weight of the immense grief. I was okay.
Today I am sad. I will always carry the grief with me and the struggle with its weight comes in waves, but I'm okay. Most days, in fact, I'm GOOD. But I know August 6th is coming and I am still reminded that my boy was born much sooner than that, and that he lives in Heaven, not our yellow and grey house sitting at the center of our homestead. We have our new guy- our precious rainbow born amidst the heartache- but we still miss our fifth child, our third son, a tiny, short, yet irreplaceable member of our family.
Born from the journey of being Asher's mom, came my new calling. I've finished my training through Stillbirthday to be a doula for families in all trimesters, with a specialty in helping families experiencing loss. As odd as it sounds, I am excited to have finished this training. I am so eager to be able to come alongside the next families experiencing such pain, and using the passion in my heart to help them on their journeys. Even beyond my training, I've continued to read as many books as I can on this topic so when the time comes I can feel intellectually equipped while letting my heart lead the way. Every book I read, I feel like I need to read five times over to keep soaking in new information.
The book I'm currently reading is Companioning at a Time of Perinatal Loss by J. Heustis and M. Jenkins. I've been in tears so many times over while reading it, for many reasons. Today, as I held my sleeping rainbow, I read a chapter on helping a family create memories during delivery that they can carry with them throughout the rest of their lives without their children. It brought back so many memories from Asher's birth- both the 'wrongs' and the 'rights.' The anesthesiologist in his mid-30's who walked in the room where my husband and I were quietly crying together and the rest of the people milling about acted like it was any other day. That one doctor picked up my chart, read why I was there, then with a deep sadness in his eyes took my hand, held it, asked how old my baby was- though my chart undoubtedly told him, HE wanted to connect with us and treat our baby like an individual- and told us how very sad he was for us. How no one but that one man that day treated it like it was the birth of a child. How all the nurses in post-op were very sweet and comforting while I screamed uncontrollably for my baby as I came out of the haze of general anesthesia while the doctor simply ordered that I be given meds to make me quiet down. How the one nurse who dressed me and gave me discharge paperwork took the time to look in my eyes, see ME, waited for me to look back, and through her own tears told me she was speaking as a mom and not a nurse that it was okay to not be okay, and to ask for help if I needed it. These simple brief moments of human contact are all I remember from the delivery of my son. I never got to touch, see, or smell him, so his ultrasound pictures are all that we have. We have a basket of his memories- a tiny cloth diaper a friend sent us before we knew he'd died, his framed ultrasound pictures, the card from a friend sent on his due date, the card from his memorial service. All of the things that to us are a tangible reminder that he lived. A blanket I bought the week before he was born used to sit in there, too, but for his first birthday this year I transformed it into a stuffed elephant the kids call 'Asher's Elliot.' It was so hard cutting into that precious piece of fabric, but watching my other children ask for it from the mantle, spend hours playing with, holding while they watch TV, and asking for their pictures to be taken with made it well worth it.
All of this together- the good, the bad, and the painful- all reiterate why I am a trained bereavement doula. Some one needs to come, stand in the gap, "hold space," if you will, for the families experiencing such loss. Some one who has been there, is trained how to professionally and personally come along side these families and help them walk this journey. These moments often lost in profound pain and grief are all they have of their children, and to be able to hold this space for them is a profound blessing and honor. (It took me a while to grasp the concept of 'to hold space.' THIS piece explains it beautifully.)
I apologize for the rambling randomness of this post. I was just so flooded with memories that I had to put down the book and write. Hence what you're reading now. Thanks for traveling with me on this stream of consciousness flow today.