Hopeful Readers, SHARE is an organization that provides support to families grieving the loss of a baby at any gestational age. When I was delivering Jake, there was coincidentally a SHARE group meeting in the hospital that night praying for us. And the facilitator of that group, Katie, met my family in the waiting room as I was delivering. One month later, I attended that same support group and still attend monthly. Katie has provided us with more support and hope than she probably realizes. What amazes me, ye does not surprise me, is the love and grief you still feel for your stillborn baby, even 28 years later. This love blows my mind and makes me grateful to have experienced such an unconditional love-the kind that can’t be seen with the eye but truly only felt with the heart. Here is Katie’s reflection from last week at the annual Share Memorial Service where we honor our babies every October. I know Mom’s like me are so grateful for Mom’s like Katie.
Share Memorial Service
October 20, 2015
Reflections with Hope
28 years ago, when I was 28, my second daughter, Rachel Elizabeth, was stillborn. Sitting here in this chapel 28 years ago, my grief was physical – I felt like I had a knife in my chest, I had a hard time breathing, and tears flowed involuntarily like a faucet unable to turn off. A few weeks before my husband and I attended our first SHARE meeting. I leaned to the woman next to me and said, “When does it get better?” and she said, “It doesn’t.” If this was true…how could I go on living? I wanted to stand on the rooftop screaming “How can everyone continue to carry on as if nothing has happened?” “My baby died… why is the world even still spinning?”
The waves of grief washed over me like contractions with no end in sight. Everything I always knew to be true no longer made sense. My faith was immature. I believed that if I was a good person and followed all the rules somehow I was protecting myself from a tragedy. And I kept my part of the bargain. How could I believe in a God that allowed my baby to die? A baby that was so loved and so wanted. I had a friend tell me that God wanted my baby and loved her more. What kind of selfish God is that?…I thought. If that is true, I wanted nothing to do with Him and I turned my back. My anger poured out. I had a complete crisis of faith. And now I was all alone…in the dark. Rachel was dead. My hope was dead. And I had no peace.
Coming to SHARE meetings each month and surrounding myself with people that understood and did not judge my darkest thoughts became my life line. Together we processed our feelings and hurts and acknowledged that our babies mattered. It seemed that a heart could not possibly love so much and hurt so much simultaneously. I missed my old self and my old life. Rachel died the day after our first daughter’s 3 year old birthday party. We had taken a video of that party. I would watch it over and over wanting so desperately to be that me again. Watching that naïve me laughing and lovingly placing my hand on my belly. I began to realize that when Rachel died I was changed forever.
My husband and I had our struggles as we grieved differently. He helped me most when he would just listen and allow me to process my feelings out loud without offering a fix or solution. Our greatest conversations happened on the way home from our SHARE meetings. He was troubled by me turning my back on God and begged me to come to church. I would begrudgingly go, sitting in the back pew ready to escape. While the pastor prayed I would say “blah, blah, blah” in my head. I felt so angry and disrespectful and worried that God would strike down my oldest daughter or maybe my husband. I felt so vulnerable and life seemed scary and dangerous.
I was in such a lonely dark place. In church, I slowly, little by little. edged toward God and finally began to pray. “How can all this love and pain be for nothing? How can it make a difference? Come to good?” I began to open my heart asking God these questions over and over when I heard a voice that said “Rachel can make a difference through you.” And suddenly I had something to live for. I did my grief work and embraced opportunities to be part of SHARE’s mission by educating nurses, doctors, and general people every chance I was presented. I went back to school to become a counselor. And for 28 years, I have come to SHARE meetings to tell others that it does get easier, it does get better. By doing your grief work, you can get to a place where you can feel joy again and find that comfortable place in your heart for your baby to live on.
Along this 28 year journey I have learned some truths I would like to share with you:
- Grief is like an ocean wave. In the beginning you are churning almost unable to catch your breath. But slowly the wave does recede, allow you to catch your breath, only to crash again. Over time the waves get further and further apart but they still take your breath away when they crash down on you. Know that when you are in a wave… it will recede.
- Grief and love are two sides of the same coin. Your grief is proof of your love.
- Love never dies. You will never forget your baby and how much you love him or her.
- Most parents have no idea when their love for their child began because there is no interruption. Some mistakenly think that love begins at birth. They question how you could love someone deeply that you haven’t known outside your womb but we all know you do. I have three living children and I love Rachel just as much.
- Love has everything to do with attachment and nothing to do with length of gestation. I was attaching to my babies as a young girl playing with my dolls. I have known couples with an early loss to be just as devastated as a 40 week loss.
- Your baby has changed you. You will never go back to being who you were before this happened. But that doesn’t mean you will be a worse you… you can be a better you. One that understands the depth of deep love and deep loss. One that can have the courage to be a companion along someone else’s journey.
- The missing piece of your heart remains no matter how many living children you have. But you can learn to find a comfortable place especially by continuing to honor your baby’s memory.
- Parents that have had a baby die love and cherish their living children with a depth and fierceness most parents and children never know. These siblings realize how precious and fragile life is and how very much they are loved. What a gift!
- Your child is a gift. And you are a parent. This is a love no one can take away from you. Pay attention because your child will continue to teach you. Are parents put here to teach their children or is it really the other way around?
- What do I know about God 28 years later…? I know that I continue on my faith journey. I know that God is always with me even when I turn my back on Him. He was always there patiently waiting for me. I believe we live in an imperfect world where bad things happen. And when they do God is with us, grieving with us, and providing us with comfort, strength, and peace. He is not about our wishes but He is about our needs. Over all these years, I have met so many good people through SHARE. I cannot believe God picked us. I believe that God can turn all things to good. We have a choice…We can be bitter or we can be better. At this point in my journey, what gives me peace in my heart is to reach out and take God’s hand, put my trust in Him, know that my life may not turn out the way I wish but I trust I am never alone and He will give me the strength I need. By turning that over I have peace.
On Rachel’s due date I wrote her a letter and told her story. I ended it by saying “All my love for you and the piece of my heart that went with you when you died cannot possibly be in vein.” The opportunity to journey with hundreds of parents as they do their grief work and honor their babies has taught me about unconditional love and honors the significance of Rachel’s life. I am blessed.
My final thought… I was participating in a team building exercise at my work. We were partnered up and the question was “Who, of all the people you have known has had the greatest impact on your life?”
My answer: Rachel, stillborn at 28 weeks when I was 28… 28 years ago.