Twice in two days I read about people surrounding bereaved parents shutting out their stories and even berating them for it. One family told they shouldn’t share the pictures of their stillborn child, people who I can only assume don’t know all that it is to lose a child claiming this isn’t a moment they would want to capture and share if it were them. Another bereaved mother told by her HR department that she couldn’t share her stillborn baby’s death announcement.
Please, please if you find yourself reading this help me accept these babies and all the babies gone before us into our hearts and our lives. Pictures of our stillborn children capture the only memories we have of their precious lives. Lives that changed us just as you other parents have been forever changed by your children. These are ours and we have a right to share our children just as you can share yours and expect to be on the receiving end of love and support for your babies.
On Monday, the day after I got home from the hospital, my work told me I couldn’t have maternity leave. I was allowed five bereavement days and would then need to apply for short term disability. I was horrified: I wasn’t disabled, I was just a new mother except instead of a newborn keeping me up all night crying I was keeping my husband up all night crying for the baby that I couldn’t cradle and sooth until morning.
“Can you help me understand why this isn’t considered maternity leave since I delivered a baby by c-section and require the same amount of recovery time, even though I was not able to bring him home?”
They reconsidered. Apparently they have never had a situation like this before which explained their lack of protocol for such a thing. We can change the way we approach baby loss. We can make those people, who know nothing about it before they learn the hard way, like my former self, understand what it is to lose a baby. We just have to keep sharing our stories. And to share we need to be surrounded by ears who will listen to show compassion instead of to judge.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Colossians 3:12 NLT
Not only did they give me maternity leave but also the five days bereavement. I am a new mom. I’m a bereaved mom.
I will share my love for my baby in ways God tells me to. And I will not only acknowledge but accept the love other parents share for their baby, in any way that makes meaning for them.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us together in perfect harmony.
As I sat on the swing on the porch of the cabin I thought about all that brought me here. Then I started thinking about the mountains and how I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I couldn’t see the bigger ranges behind what was in front of me. I was sitting on a mountain at elevation around 2400 feet but the next 30 miles that spread out in front of me held ranges with 6500 foot peaks. Why couldn’t I see them? My analytical brain wanted to climb into research of mountain visibility and human sight but my spirituality won out. God used nature to give me some perspective.
My life, just like your life and the lives of everyone in the world, is full of mountains. If I can see all the many steep cliffs behind the one immediately in front of me I will cower in fear of the height. I’ll never even try to climb them. If I can clearly see other people’s mountain ranges, I’ll compare them to my own and maybe try to climb them instead. But God’s grace allows me to only see that mountain in front of me that I need to overcome. As I navigate the mountains in my life, God reveals the bigger ones behind it that He intends for me to see. If God were to show me my whole life plan at once I’d be too overwhelmed, think the risk is too high, the height too much to overcome. If He were to reveal it all to me at once, I’d give in to intimidation and convince myself that the path is just too hard, too treacherous to survive. But when I put my trust in Him, He not only lights my path but leads me to the top.
Some days are clear and I can see mountains for miles, my path evident in front of me. Other days require my faith to be stronger. Clouds snuggle tight against the ranges making the peaks hard to see. On those days instead of questioning whether the mountains are still there, I put my trust in God that no only do His plans for me still exist but with His help I can navigate them. His plan still exists when it’s cloudy and the limited visibility makes it seem like there is no way out.
I don’t need to see the top of a mountain to know I can make it to the top, not by focusing on what I can see or on surrounding mountains but by trusting He is leading me to the high ground. After all, the top is the only way to appreciate what is below and begin to see the world as God sees it.
One year ago I never saw the mountain of Avery and all that he would mean to my life coming, not even a faint glimmer in the distance. When I found out I was pregnant with him I never saw the mountain of losing him coming. God knew if I saw a baby coming I’d want to back down afraid of the height of it all. If I had to know I’d lose him beforehand, I wouldn’t be able to comprehend how painful it would be. The clouds God brings to my life are His grace reassuring me that He’s protecting me by not revealing His plan in its entirety. He will lead me through what I don’t see coming.
Now I feel like I’m standing on one of the major mountain peaks of my life and God is giving me two options. I can choose to strengthen my faith in Him and conquer the peaks not when I think I should see them or when I can see them but when He plans to light my path and lead me over them. The alternative is to stay in the valleys where there is no view of the majestic mountains God has to offer me in life, no room for appreciation for the climb and the strength I used along the way.
The important thing about trouble is that old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. If our lives never had any of those low valleys, we could never appreciate those high mountaintops; if no rain, the sunshine would not be so special. Together you can face whatever the future holds. Always care more about each other than you do yourselves.
When I got married my grandma wrote me an eloquent letter which I’ve come to cherish these last couple years without her. I like to think she knew when she wrote it that I would find comfort in it during what I’d have to face in the future. I like to picture her cradling my sweet Avery in heaven as they look down on all the mountains of the world, waiting for the rest of us to be called home.
Days after I left the hospital I was in Target looking for pajamas to wear for the next few months off work. Please note the Target concept of leaving with more than you came for still applies when you’re in shock because as I avoided looking right towards the baby aisle I looked left and saw this book – It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way by Lisa Terkeurst. The little voice in my head agreed, “yeah I don’t think it’s supposed to be this way either” so I brought it home to read. I started it then but wasn’t ready to grasp that much thinking at that point so I didn’t get past a few pages. This week though I picked it up and it’s brought me to several comforting revelations despite being only halfway done reading it.
I’m good at being sad. I can break out in tears moments after I’ve just reassured and convinced myself that I got this, I can live without my son. What I’m not so good at feeling is guilty and angry. I have been pushing away these emotions telling myself I don’t feel them, thinking that will make them not exist. Because I want them to not exist. I don’t want to be angry with God because then I feel guilty about being angry with Him. How can I be angry with him for taking Avery back when He’s the one who gave him life? I am angry though because I’m human and I’m not perfect. God is perfect however and He understands my guilt and anger. I have to acknowledge I am both because when I do, I can let God in to heal what is making me feel this way.
One of the many questions swirling around my head is why God gives children to people who don’t even want them or know how to care for them but He didn’t let me keep my beloved Avery who I was so highly anticipating. When I asked this of Him, He responded with another question, asking if I cannot understand the work of God (Ecclesiastes 11.5) in my own life, why should I expect to understand His work in other people’s lives. I don’t know His plans for them just as I don’t know my own, nor should I want to because they are so great. So if I can accept God’s plan for Avery in my life even though he’s not physically here on earth, I have to accept that He has plans for other people and their children. God’s individual plans for all of us are irrelevant in the way that I am not being punished while others are blessed with children. He is not purposely robbing me of my motherhood while others cradle their babies but never truly appreciate their precious lives in the way I now do.
When I tell God I’m angry at him for blessing me with Avery then taking him back so soon He asks me if I’d rather have never conceived him, if I don’t want to be his mom at all, to which I cannot and never will say yes. And with that I can start to let the anger go.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t wonder whether I did or didn’t do something during pregnancy that told God I wouldn’t be a good mom. More often I have questioned whether losing Avery is a direct punishment for sin(s) I’ve committed in my life. When I acknowledge these questions of guilt and hand them over to God, He calms me with the fact that death exists in our lives simply because sin exists.
Death is but a passageway at God’s designated time for us to finally escape this broken world full of imperfections and be welcomed to the Home we’ve been longing for our entire lives. It’s another beginning.
He doesn’t use heartbreak to punish us for our sins but we have to accept its existence because our world itself is broken. And in turn it breaks us at times.
The human heart was created in the context of the perfection of the garden of Eden. But we don’t live there now.
We live in reality with sin and suffering. We can’t go it alone and we aren’t meant to. We are meant to turn to him for peace and strength to walk our path.
Some things won’t be fixed on this side of eternity; they just have to be walked through.
He doesn’t create the heartbreak we experience to cause us pain but as a means of drawing us near to him.
If our souls never ached with disappointments and disillusionments, we’d never fully admit and submit our need for God.
I am admitting I need Him in this life without my son. I need Him to walk with me through this life until I can be reunited with Avery in the eternal perfection of heaven.
And I am grateful He has blessed me with the comfort of this book. I can almost guarantee I’ll have more to say about the second half.
It’s the last day of 2018 and I’m hesitant to enter into a year where my son never existed. As I reflected on this year I remembered for the first few months I had no idea Avery was coming.
I knew nothing of the love I now have for him. I knew nothing of this heavy grief I have for having to say goodbye to him for now.
In less than one year God rocked my world and took me from a carefree partying twenty-five year old to an innocent pregnant mom-to-be to a bereaved parent struggling to learn how to love my son this way. If God did all that in the span of one year, what does 2019 have in store for me? What’s He going to bring into my life now that I have all this courage and power from love?
If I have learned anything this year it is that I can only plan so far and wide. At some point I have to give it up to God that some things don’t go the way we envision. Before March of this year I wasn’t yet pregnant. Until May of this year I didn’t know I was pregnant with Avery and definitely didn’t envision getting pregnant but it changed me; it turned everything I knew about my life inside out. And just because I didn’t plan it doesn’t mean I don’t consider it the biggest blessing of my life.
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 NIV
I had no idea what things God would bring to my life in 2018.
I have no idea what things God will bring to my life in 2019.
All I know is that I’m going to be still. The Lord will fight for me (Exodus 14.14). Be still, and know that I am God (Ps 46.10).
And wherever He takes me, in this new year and every year of this life I have yet to live, I’m carrying Avery Jordan with me. This year brought more joy, pain, grief and love to my life than I imagined was possible to feel and I wouldn’t change a bit of it. The grief I carry is the love I envisioned giving my son in this lifetime and that will never get too heavy.
He may not exist in this new year but I’m bringing him with me. Always.
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
We planned for this day for the better part of this year. What we couldn’t prepare ourselves for was saying goodbye to you. Many questions have flooded my mind since you left us and many go unanswered but one I know for sure. Knowing what I know now about the outcome of your pregnancy would I do it all over again if I had to? The answer is yes. I would take the pain of saying goodbye to you every day if that means I get to love you.
And oh do I love you sweet boy. I hope you get to know that in Heaven but in case you don’t I’ll be there some day to make sure you know that we loved you as much as we possibly could and we will continue to love you until we meet again. For now I let go of the expectation of having you here on earth and I move on from who I expected you to be in our lives. Instead I’m embracing being your mom and everything that now means. I’m going to find ways to make you a part of our lives until we are reunited in Heaven.
We had so many plans to teach you so many things but instead you’re the one going to be teaching me. You changed my life and made me a mother. Not the kind of mother I ever hoped to be but a mother no less. Now that I’m a bereaved mom I’m proud to be the one chosen to love you and remember you. I hope one day you’ll tell me you’re proud of me too.
I love you, Avery Jordan, unconditionally and with more love than I ever knew I could hold in my heart; with the kind of love that spans earth and Heaven, unchangeable by distance and time.
Grief is an untamable beast. Time moves ridiculously slow yet passes by quickly all at the same time. Just when I think I have a handle on an aspect of my grief I get blindsided and all hell breaks loose. When my chest tightens and I feel like I can’t breathe I remind myself strong love is what brought me this powerful grief and strong love will bring me through the rest of my days.
I’ve felt a million emotions I never felt before and the ones I’m familiar with I’ve felt with intensity at maximum. Anger is not one I’ve felt nearly as much as others like pain and sadness. I feel it but then get confused about who to be angry at.
How can I be angry with God when he made Avery in the first place? We’re told “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:20). We are not only to praise Him but to suffer for Him, even when He has taken something precious from us. How can I be angry at the doctors, nurses, or even myself when we didn’t cause what happened nor could we have prevented it? How can I be angry at other moms and moms-to-be when their babies and pregnancies had nothing to do with losing mine?
Yet somehow I am angry. I’m angry at God for blessing me with him then taking my baby from me. I’m angry at the doctors, nurses, and my own body for not saving him. I’m angry at Jordan for reminding me Avery doesn’t want me to be sad. I’m angry at pregnant women and moms with babies simply for existing.
Here’s the key : I let myself feel anger but I don’t live there. I don’t let it consume me and monopolize my thoughts. I’m angry at God but more so I’m grateful because my baby has the ultimate home with Him in Heaven where he knows no pain and all love. I’m angry at the medical staff and myself but more so I’m thankful they not only saved my life but saved my possibility of more children and accepting that there was nothing we could have done to stop God’s Will. I’m angry when Jordan tells me Avery doesn’t want me to be sad but much stronger than that I love him for wanting me to feel joy again. I’m angry at pregnant moms and moms with babies but that anger is just misdirected envy for having the pregnancy I had and lost or the baby I planned on snuggling and ultimately I’m grateful to God for healthy babies and uneventful pregnancies.
I wish I could say I wanted to rewind my life and part of that is maybe true. I would love to still be pregnant and getting ready to deliver a healthy, kicking Avery. But do I wish I never got pregnant at all? Absolutely not. In the seven months Avery was in my belly my heart grew and filled with more love than I knew I had in me. Now that my heart has been shattered I know what I’m capable of in terms of love and strength. I’m responsible for putting the pieces back together and filling my heart even fuller with love. I know what love is when I look at Avery’s Daddy but I gained an understanding of love I didn’t before when I held Avery in my arms.
I wish I could go back to a time when I didn’t know what life as a bereaved mom is like. Conclusively I would never wish to go back to a life without Avery. Nor do I wish to go back to a time when I took love for granted.
There is nothing I will experience in life that will be more painful than holding my stillborn son. Keeping that thought in mind I can do anything. I have been through the worst and even in the darkness God was there. He chose me as Avery’s Mom because He knows I’m strong enough and perfect for the job with His help. He sent me Avery to make me who I am meant to be. I planned to teach Avery many things but instead he’s going to be my teacher.
I will hold my Avery again someday and in Heaven he will look up at me with blue eyes and I will tell him how he taught me about love. How I shouldn’t stay angry for long. How grief and joy go hand in hand. How I wanted him here so bad but was simultaneously glad Heaven has always been his home. How I wished I didn’t know the things I know yet glad I did at the same time. How empathetic he made me and instilled this need to help others through similar losses. How strong he made me.
How he not only made me a mom but he made me his mom.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
When I first found out I was pregnant with Avery I was terrified. I had a million questions : am I ready, how far along am I, did all that beer I just had hurt the baby? Jordan didn’t seem to have any questions instantly or if he did they were abandoned for the excitement of having a baby of our own. He was ecstatic about being a Daddy. While tears ran down my face and I reached for my bible for assurances from God that now was the time Jordan looked at me, grinning from ear to ear, and asked “why are you praying, it’s all going to be okay” as if he already knew the answers to my questions and felt the immensity of this miracle. As if God had already assured him now was the time.
Avery is just that, a miracle. We weren’t trying for him and in the very beginning I remember feeling guilty. We knew of many couples who were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t and here we were with this blessed surprise of a baby. Surprise and miracle are words I use to describe conceiving Avery but he never was an accident. He was always meant to be our son. Kids have always been our future but both of us were getting comfortable in our married life and neither wanted to admit we thought we were ready. In retrospect we weren’t ready and there is no time for anyone to be ready for how we welcomed our first child into our family.
I was still getting over the shock of the news but Jordan plunged headfirst into Daddy mode. The first few weeks were difficult for me between morning sickness and exhaustion so many days all I could manage was work and a nap on the couch. He took over household chores, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner. He insisted I eat healthy and tried to make all kinds of new foods that I smelled and ran for the bathroom.
At first I wanted Baby S to be a girl and I thought that until the anatomy ultrasound. The technician barely had the machine turned on when Jordan knew he was looking at his son. I couldn’t see from where I was laying down but from the tears rolling down his face I knew that I was carrying his boy. He repeatedly said “I just can’t believe it’s a boy” and I realized I didn’t really want it to be a girl. I wanted him to be exactly what he was. It was the week of Jordan’s 26th birthday and he said he couldn’t have asked for a better present.
Shortly after our 20 week anatomy ultrasound we bought our first home and started renovations with our Christmas due date as a deadline. For weeks, then months Jordan worked his regular work hours then went to the new house. Being pregnant didn’t allow me to be much help and I felt guilty for him being the only one of us doing all the manual labor. He was tired and exhausted much of that time but we reminded each other that it would all be worth it for our family to enjoy this beautiful new home in a few months. As they’re putting the finishing touches on the renovations now I have to remind him that there is no longer a deadline and he should use his downtime to relax instead (he doesn’t listen).
The most I’ve ever seen him cry was the day after Avery went to Heaven and I will always regret not knowing what to do. It was such a rare sight to see him lose it like that and I didn’t know how to comfort him. He didn’t always say anything through the tears but the one thing that broke my already shattered heart was “There was so much I wanted to do with him”.
I may have been the one carrying Avery but his Daddy loved him just as much already. He was looking forward to an energetic toddler to wrestle and play sports with. He wanted to take him to the Masters and tell him all about his work. He wanted to teach him how to drive the truck. He talked to him and read to him when he was in my belly and Avery went kick crazy at the sound of his voice. He would feel him often and ask me every day about his movements.
My heart broke all over again when I realized that I had not only just lost my little boy but I had lost this amazing man’s first son as well. Guilt crept up on me like a black fog and threatened to make me believe I had done something to cause this. Jordan wouldn’t hear of my guilt. He reminded me constantly that there was nothing I could have done differently to make him live.
Since that day in the hospital Jordan has been my strong rock. I know we all grieve differently. When I ask him how he’s processing he tells me he’s angry but accepting it and more importantly he’s concerned with my wellbeing; am I healing well physically and emotionally. Just because he hasn’t cried much since leaving the hospital doesn’t mean he’s not understanding of my emotions. He anticipates my triggers, makes eye contact, and says things like “I know” and “We’ll have that again someday”. In the early days home from the hospital I needed help with everything from using the bathroom to packing my incision wound. There was nothing that was too much for him to help with; no request that he was annoyed to fulfill. He stayed home with me for two weeks and although our moms were here I don’t think I would have gotten out of bed and through the day without my husband and his unconditional love.
We are closer than we have ever been in our two and a half years of marriage and five years of dating. He’s accepting of all the ideas I have to include Avery in our family even though he says its hard to remember. He doesn’t think I’m crazy when I tell him I talk to Avery or that over a month later I’m still carrying AJ the teddy bear because my arms still feel empty. I tell him I want my baby and he seems to know when I need to hear a simple “I know” and when he needs to remind me that he’s not coming back to this life. He says goodnight to Avery with me every night. He doesn’t let what happened to Avery create fear of having more children.
Everyone who has been telling me how strong and brave I am just know I am these with my husband’s unwavering support. He is my rock, my home, the love of my life. And I don’t thank him enough for being his amazing self.
The plans I had for you were great but they pale in compassion to God’s plan. From the evening I found out we had conceived you, everything Daddy and I did had you at the forefront. We dove headfirst into being your parents before we even heard your heart beat for the first time. A few days after the positive pregnancy tests (all five of them) we bought your car seat, stroller and pack ‘n play. After your first ultrasound we bought you a crib. You may have only been 10 weeks old in my belly but your Daddy couldn’t wait to set up your bed. Little did he know we’d be buying a home a few months later and your crib would need to be taken down and put up again in your new nursery.
I’m sure you can see it from Heaven and it doesn’t compare to your room there but I poured my heart into decorating your space here in our home. In addition to your crib there’s a bed I imagined Daddy and I crashing in when we checked on you during the night and were too tired to find our way back to our own or your Grandmas staying there when they visited and couldn’t stand to be away from you even when they slept. There’s a mini fridge up there and a bottle warmer in anticipation of keeping breast milk cool and convenient so we wouldn’t have to go downstairs before midnight feedings. The pack ‘n play lays out of place by your crib when I had planned on you sleeping in it next to my bedside for the first few weeks or so.
In September we traveled home to Pennsylvania with you in my belly and you were showered by our hometown friends and family and then again by my co-workers a month later. They gave you many wonderful toys which now sit in your nursery waiting to be played with and some of the cutest outfits I’ve ever seen which hang in your closet or lay folded in your drawers washed and waiting to be worn. On top of your dresser I attached a changing pad for your million diaper changes. The closets are filled with diapers, wipes, sheets, mattress protectors and a bath tub. There’s a rolling cart for bath time that is also home to all your first aid and diaper changing essentials. The glider I imagined rocking you in I sit in every day partly because I’m recovering from the c-section and partly because if I close my eyes I can feel your tiny body snuggling on me.
There is a swing set in the yard of this first home we bought and your Daddy talked about swapping out the swing for an infant one. Daddy’s truck we call Snow White we imagined teaching you to drive in and making it your first vehicle in 16 years. We picked out and visited a daycare where you’d be safe and cared for after Mommy had to return to work. A pediatrician was also lined up who I imagined having to call with many first time parent questions.
Everything I did this year I pictured myself doing next year with a newborn. When we went to the beach we imagined you playing in the sand at six months old. We went to weddings and I imagined both what it would be like to have you there celebrating with us and what it would be like to have to leave you with a babysitter while I went with Daddy. My biggest fear was going back to work after maternity leave knowing once you were here I was never going to want to leave you. As I worked and felt you kick in my belly I thought about how excited I would be to pick you up and get home to be with you.
As Daddy and I read to you or listened, as we did so often, to classical music we dreamed about the person you’d be. Daddy wanted you to be a golfer or a football player (a kicker preferably where you’d still make an NFL salary but had less of a chance of getting hurt). Mommy knew you were going to be a smart cookie and dreamed of you having a career in medicine or cyber security where you could help people with your intelligence because I know you are as kind as you are smart. Your cat sister used to lay on you in my belly and you’d kick her; I’d imagine you both loving her and torturing her as you grew up.
The dreams we had for you may be shattered and as a result my heart is shattered too but through the cracks I’m learning that I love you deeper than I ever thought possible. The only dream I’m holding onto now is spending eternity in Heaven with you, sweet boy.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future