Shortly after September 15, 2009, I learned all about October 15, which is the date that has been set side for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I didn’t know the significance of that date because there was no reason to. But by the evening of September 15th, everything had changed. In just a few short hours, my and Neal’s lives altered course, drastically. I used to think it was wholly for the worse, but as time has passed, I can see just the faintest glimmer of a silver lining.
The day I found out I was pregnant with Shepherd, I was vacationing at my sister’s house in Florida. As the 1 line became 2, she hugged me and said, “Welcome to The Club, sis!” On September 15th, I joined a completely different kind of club. That one came with hugs and tears, too, but also immense feelings of guilt and isolation. In the 9 years since, I’ve met many more women in The Club; some have been members for awhile, others newly inducted and gasping for air in an ocean of pain. Angel Moms don’t always recognize one another upon first meeting. But once we share our stories, there is an instant acknowledgment of our shared journey. All feelings of alienation fall away as we silently affirm, “I know your pain because I’ve felt it, too. One day we will be whole again.” What’s remarkable is that there has never been any comparison of experiences. We describe them, but we don’t measure them against what another mother has endured. We all simply agree: there is no greater grief than burying a child.
I have always believed, although I am loathe to ever say it to someone in the depths of despair after a loss, that everything happens for a reason. I could blame my Southern Baptist upbringing – an indoctrination that God’s Plan is like one giant game of Life where we are all just buying houses and cars and having kids as we move along the squares, racing towards The End. I’ve long since abandoned that particular denomination but some ideas sunk their claws in and just refuse to release. As if my physical and spiritual growth couldn’t expel them so they just grew around it, all-encompassing, no matter how irrational and incongruent those ideas are with my current belief system. That means that, for me, losing Shep is part of The Plan. I believe it now, I even believed it 9 years ago, although that didn’t make any of it easier. God had some serious ‘splainin to do.
But, of course, God doesn’t explain. He doesn’t need to. We simply don’t understand. We can’t. But we can begin to see a little something good bubble up from the black. For me, it happened about 6 or 7 years ago. We were stationed at Fort Knox, 90 minutes from my hometown. Blue and I drove back almost every Sunday to attend church and visit with family. One Saturday afternoon, Mom called to tell me about a childhood friend’s baby, who passed just a couple days after birth. The funeral would be the following week in my hometown. I sat down next to Blue, who was immersed in a fierce battle between Thomas the Train and his best friend, Percy, and cried a river of tears. I cried into Dear Liza’s bucket, y’know…the one with the hole in the bottom so it never fills up. What could possibly be the reason for this? It was September 16, 2009 all over again. Except…it wasn’t. I had 3 years of being an Angel Mom on my resume and I had found a level of peace that this new Angel Mom couldn’t even imagine existing. She was surrounded by well-intentioned family and friends offering their platitudes of hope because they didn’t really know what else to say. But I knew exactly what to say. Maybe it wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear, but I had the words because they had been forming on my lips for 3 years. Most importantly, I could look her in the eye and offer her my guiding hand through the rockiest terrain during the darkest days. She didn’t take me up on it, but I didn’t know her that well, either. Still, she knew it was there if ever she needed to reach for it.
Ah. The Plan. I could be a Guide for God. I always thought when God finally decided to talk to me (or, more likely, when I finally decided to listen), there would be some great flash of light or maybe a movement of earth under my feet. But instead it was a small voice, sounding much like my own, rising up to form an idea. Had I not been paying attention I would have thought it was my idea. But I knew better. It would never be my idea to put myself out there as a person who can be called upon to sit with someone experiencing bottomless grief. That was God’s voice, God’s idea. My calling.
It has been 9 years and I’ve met or known at least 9 new Angel Moms. Honestly, it is heart-wrenching. Every single time. Because for about 5 minutes, I time travel back to the morning of the 16th, climbing gingerly into that old Prius. Reaching over to scrape off the remnants of dried blood from the previous day before I will allow myself to get in. We make that awkwardly silent trip down Nicholasville Road, from the U.K. hospital to the house, with Neal’s hand on my thigh and my head resting on the window. I dread going home, to the nursery and the clothes and all of the baby items I had been buying in eager anticipation just a few short days before. I wanted to run away, maybe with Neal…maybe alone. I did not want this life and I sure as hell didn’t want to face anyone in it. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live, either. And there I existed for longer than I ever care to admit. Yes, my beloved Angel Moms, I know your pain and I’m not going to tell you that everything happens for a reason. I’m simply going to remind you as often as I need to that you are not alone and that it is not your fault. And that God loves you. We all do.
Not all of us can (or will) talk about it. I tend to gravitate most quickly to the ones who do, but that’s only because we don’t mind to attach words to our feelings and I always get along better with someone who I feel comfortable communicating with. Nothing is taboo with me because to make it unspeakable is to give it more power than it deserves to have. Grief does not get to rule (or ruin) my life. I will call it by name, give it the time it needs, and then ask it to move to the back of the line. It’s someone else’s turn – Happiness or Joy or Peace.
Every now and then I meet another willing guide; someone who is open and honest about such unimaginable pain. She talks about the thing that no one wants to talk about. She offers a glimpse into this grief, without apology or reservation. She seeks to help those who haven’t experienced it understand, in a judgment-free space. Yes, we welcome your prayers. No, we don’t want to hear that it will be better when we get pregnant again. This most recent Angel Mom and Guide is blogging at A Mother’s Journey to Healing, which I have found to be an astonishingly courageous recount of Candice’s life, beginning with the passing of her Angel Daughter during the beginning of the 3rd trimester. What is the best way to support an Angel Mom (or Dad, for that matter)? To simply be willing to hear (or read) our stories. If you will take the time to listen to our perspective, it will undoubtedly alter yours. And when that occurs, you become more aware of what you say, what you do. Being a little more mindful of those we occupy space with is never a bad thing. And it keeps you from looking like an egocentric power couple when the Miami Herald reports that you’ve just announced your pregnancy on the one day set aside (in the U.S., as well as the UK, Canada, Norway, Italy, Kenya and parts of Australia) to honor and remember those women affected by pregnancy and infant loss. There’s nothing quite like looking royally apathetic or, at best, oblivious.
Tonight we light a candle and say their names. We take some solace in seeing others do the same. We tell ourselves that those babies have found each other Up There, that they are playing hop scotch and tag. We remind one another that we will see them again. Until then, we have each other.