I found out I lost my baby on October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
I had been laying on a bed in the ER for nearly three hours when a doctor finally came in and curtly informed me that I was no longer pregnant. My tears splashed one by one onto the shapeless hospital gown as she assured me I didn’t need to be upset, it was basically just hormones, a small cluster of cells at that point, not a real baby. The nurse chimed in that it was so early that I had barely been pregnant anyway, and at least I already had a healthy little girl. Then they stuck a bed pan under my hips, did a brisk pelvic exam, and left without a word.
“At least.” The worst attempts at empathy usually begin with that.
I gingerly lifted myself from the bed, silently pulled my clothes back on, and wondered if they were right. My baby was barely five weeks, the size of a sesame seed. Only a handful of people even knew I was pregnant. Did I have a right to grieve such a small loss?
The tender look in my husband’s eyes as he wrapped our squirming toddler in his arms told me “Yes, we can grieve.” We’d spent months hoping and praying for this child. We had already discussed names and started dreaming about life as a family of four. We loved this sesame seed so much, and suddenly it was gone. Gone without ever being known. My second baby, my littlest love, was gone before I could ever kiss his newborn cheeks or marvel at her tiny fingers. I would never get to hear him laugh or watch my husband love her. My daughter would never know her first sibling. My baby may have been small, but this loss was not. This loss was real and it was heavy.
And almost nobody knew about it. I dove into my grief with isolation wrapped around my shoulders like a blanket rapidly gaining water and pulling me out of my depth. I spent four days sinking until I realized I was so deep that I couldn’t see my way back up. I wanted to keep sinking, because fighting back to the surface, breaking through into the sunlight, meant confronting the pain that I knew waited there. As long as I stayed in the cold, dark waters, I could remain numb, and for a moment, that felt easier. But I knew that I couldn’t love my daughter well from the ocean floor. For her sake I let the suffocating weight of loneliness go, and I slowly began to tell the people in my life about our loss. I’d been afraid to burden them, to put them in a position of needing to say the right thing, ask the right questions, or offer the right condolences.
Almost immediately I saw I had been wrong to have such little faith.
Each person I shared my grief with stepped in quickly to shoulder the burden with me. They wrapped their arms around me, shed tears with me, and told me that my baby was important and loved. They sent texts, wrote cards, and gave flowers. They understood my heart without me needing to explain it. They saw the greatness of my loss, and they encouraged me to stand strong while I walked through it. These people, my people, did not hesitate to step into the darkest corners of my broken heart. They breathed life right into the place where I was suffocating.
I tend to keep a level of distance between myself and others. There are areas too messy, too painful, too shameful to let people all the way into. Then I lost my baby, and I didn’t have the strength to maintain that distance. I couldn’t hold back the tears, I couldn’t plaster on a smile, and I couldn’t withhold my experience because it was suddenly a defining part of who I was.
The loss isn’t the entirety of my identity, but it is an integral part of my experience. That day, that moment when I found out the life I had been growing was gone, created a split in my life. I had been walking down a path, and suddenly I was on a completely new one, as if I was one kind of mom before those five days, and a new one after. This loss will never go away. It will always be with me, because it is all I have of my baby. All I have is the memory. All I have are those five days that I joyfully carried the truth of this life. And as hard and painful as it is to hold them, that’s exactly what I have to do. I have to hold them tight and I have to hold them close. They are small but they are powerful. I get to experience the joy of raising my daughter every day. This joy, though much more brief, is no less sacred.
Whether our children are biological, adopted, or fostered, the very moment we come to know them they begin to take from us. They take our stable emotions and pulverize them. They take the mind that was once our own and completely consume it. They take our time, money, and priorities. They take everything, and somehow they give us so much more. They give us joy, a greater understanding of love, and new depths of patience and grace. For everything they take, they give back one hundred times more. All we can hope is to give them a fraction of what they bless us with. Even though this child was only with me for a short time, that truth remains. My baby took my heart and shattered it, but in the process gave me five days of joy, a strengthened faith in the fact that God has a plan, a deeper gratitude for my community, and an ability to empathize with women walking through similar loss. Amazing that someone so very small can teach such big lessons. So, though it is so very painful to talk about and remember my baby, that is exactly what I will do.
Avery, I will always love you. I will always be grateful for our short time together. You will always be mine.
Written by Megan Calhoon. Megan is a writer just trying to make sense of the emotional tornado that is being a wife/mom/friend/human. She is married to the most gracious man, and the mother of a fiery two year old girl and a baby boy due late this summer. Her words can be found here and her pictures here.