I distinctly remember standing in the grocery store, I didn’t realize my hand had moved over my now flat stomach, my arms felt that familiar emptiness and tears were running down my face. Right in the middle of HEB I left a full grocery basket just sitting in the isle because I saw a pregnant woman.
After we lost our son, I didn’t want to go in public. All of a sudden I was having anxiety about anyone seeing me. I am an outgoing person so this was strange. I just knew everyone would look at my stomach to see if my baby bump was really gone. I was worried people would look at me with pity and I hate pity. I wanted to mourn alone, to be sad alone, I wasn’t ready to share my grief. I felt like I was wearing a sign around my neck that read “my baby died inside of me”. I couldn’t wrap my mind around ever going in public again.
At that time, I ran a large preschool where everyone knew I was pregnant. The parents and teachers were thrilled for me, the kids had even been suggesting baby names. “Christmas” was my favorite suggestion, gotta love preschoolers. Everyone knew I wasn’t at work that morning to find out the gender of our baby and was anxiously waiting for my return with the exciting news. But I didn’t return. I didn’t call. I think I sent a text message but I have no memory of it.
I do remember while I was at home safely hidden on my couch covered in blankets, my teachers came by and like a robot I would tell the story. Without tears or much emotion I would tell them what happened. My girlfriend Holly was there and at one point, I felt her cringing beside me listening to the story on repeat. I think I was trying to desensitize myself to it so when I had to tell it in public, I wouldn’t fall apart. Maybe I was trying to make it small to me because the pain I had felt so far was terrifying and I was still cushioned in shock. And probably because I already felt the pressure to move past the loss that so many women endure. Whatever I was doing, it didn’t work.
I understood the fear of being around everyone who knew I was pregnant, what I didn’t understand was being afraid of strangers in public. I didn’t understand the panic I was feeling about people who didn’t know me or ever know I was pregnant. I didn’t know what I was afraid of until I was frozen in the grocery store weeping and holding an empty womb. I didn’t know until I sat in church sweating, shaking with anger at seeing more pregnant women and newborns. The range of emotions that you experience after a pregnancy loss is shocking. Even now, years later, I am rarely prepared for how intense the emotions are or the unexpected triggers that surface them.
This deep and lasting grief is confusing for many people, especially if you have other children. The world has an expectation for you to move on. But no one will replace the child that you lost. The love you have for the rest of your children will not dissolve the love that still exists for the baby who is gone. Giving yourself the grace to feel your grief is not being ungrateful for your living children. The grief does not go away, but it does not always have to be negative.
Every November when my son’s birthday rolls around, I am sad. Every year I say I am not going to walk in my grief all month. But every November, I am just a bit more emotional, sad in a way I can’t help and strangely celebratory at the same time. My son did exist. He did make me a mother, he did have a life and a birthday and my heart still celebrates as much as it aches. Just because he did not live in the world, doesn’t mean he did not live.
All year round I have these very tangible moments of happiness, fury, sorrow and longing. I have missed my exit on the highway, cried in the middle of a boat ride, laid in bed at night missing his tiny face. I’ve smiled bittersweet smiles, struggled to breath, screamed and shook my fist at the heavens. And that is okay. This November it will be his 6th birthday. I will expect the feelings to be lighter this year as I do every year and I will be shaken by how they are not. I have learned to ride the waves of grief in all its forms, even the more embarrassing public grief. I’ve come to accept the emotions and how intimate they feel as a connection to my son. The acceptance doesn’t lessen the grief but gives it permission to exist.
In a culture that does not respect life at this stage, many will not value the death or understand the mourning that follows. I am here to tell you, a mother’s heart knows. I tried to get over it, to “move on”, once you have healthy babies, people expect you to be different. Although you do not get over it, there is life after loss. You will learn to live with it because the truth is you are different now. You can let the grief eat you alive, torture yourself trying to get rid of it or accept it as part of you. This grief, these memories are what you have left of your child, they are precious. Don’t live in sadness, but don’t wish it away. Like a beautiful scar, these emotions are an intimate gift left behind that you have the honor to remember.