Recently, it was brought to my attention that people use my story as a political point; as a way to say “this is the right way, this is the beautiful way to lose a baby.” When I first found out, I didn’t know what to say, or how to wrap my head around people who have never had to hold a dying child, taking what I went through and making it just a political statement. So I wanted to say out loud that I’m not ok with it.
Don’t use me. Don’t use Austin.
Austin’s life was beautiful, it had meaning and I’m so thankful I was able to spend the nine months I did with him, and I’m also thankful for the time I was able to hold him.
It was also the most traumatic loss I have ever experienced. Watching your child, the baby you’ve protected with your body and your heart struggle to breathe while you try to comfort him, knowing he will have no earthly comfort other than your voice, it was impossibly hard. Begging Jesus to take him, while also wishing he could stay there with me was confusing and awful.
I’ve explained a “peace beyond understanding” and that was very present. But the statement does not mean I was peaceful during his death. It simply means I was not screaming at the top of my lungs and throwing things like I wanted to be. It means I kept going, when moving forward was the most impossible thing I could fathom. Struggling with the question of “did I let my child suffer needlessly, should I have fought to induce earlier, could I have found a better way” is something you CANNOT understand if you haven’t been there. The guilt that follows you after making any decision when nothing will save your baby is very hard to live with.
I have incredible respect for every single mother that has been faced with that choice. So please, never use my story and Austin’s story to put down a mother that chose to induce at 22 or 26 or 30 weeks. We are all doing what we think is best for our babies, and trying to find a way to come to terms with the impossibility of losing a child. There simply is not a “right” or “beautiful” way to watch your baby die.
It really is that simple.
As Christmas approaches and the holidays truly take over everything, your feeds will be taken over by beautiful pictures of families together. Children filled with joy as they laugh or cry with Santa. You’ll see presents wrapped and good deeds by the hundreds, everyone is in the spirit to celebrate and enjoy this time of year. It’s beautiful, and magical and it’s all so contagious!
But I wanted to share a bit of my perspective, what my feed looks like. Mixed in with all the festivities and magic, there’s a post from a mother, spending her first Christmas without her baby. She asks the question “how do you ever celebrate again?” There are family Christmas pictures that are shared as someone holds a photo, the only way to get a complete family portrait anymore. Families are together, but feel that missing piece like a wound. We parents without our babies. We hide in the bathroom at Christmas parties because we still don’t know how to fully celebrate when we feel so empty. We don’t talk about the missing because so many people see it as a downer. We try to smile and laugh our way through this season, we try so hard to be what everyone considers “normal.”
There are three ornaments hanging from my tree that speak of a little boy that would be three and a half this Christmas, which honestly still feels too unreal to comprehend. Three and a half years. I can’t help but think about how much magic he would bring into this home at that age. The first Christmas that he would really start to understand what any of this meant. “Helping” his little sister open her presents, poking a belly that holds his little brother, actually knowing what he might want for Christmas. Instead I’m left trying to find a balance where I can miss him and embrace that, while also finding the magic for our little girl.
Christmas has become complicated, and I just wanted to put that out there for anyone who knows someone who’s been through or is going through this. Understand the effort that is going in to smiling this Christmas, and tell them that you are there. Tell them that speaking their babies name won’t make them the downer of the party. Recognize that if they don’t want to come at all, that’s ok too. Wrap them in love this year, and don’t be too pushy. This season is so beautiful, but it’s also so hard.
Love us anyway.
We’re coming into what I like to think of as the calm before the storm. Four years ago in early September, I found out I was pregnant. We weren’t trying, we hadn’t even thought it was possible at that moment, and we were totally unprepared. BUT I was excited and overwhelmed. Around this time I had a scare, I started bleeding heavily. Luckily I got in to see a doctor and at just 6 weeks old, I saw Austin’s heartbeat for the very first time. It was magical, and in that moment I fully accepted that I was going to be a mom. I promised that little heartbeat I would love it, that I would spend every day teaching him or her how to be the best them they could be. I prayed daily for health and for myself, that I would find the strength to be a good mom, even at just 21 years old. It was a hard beginning of pregnancy, I was sick all the time, and as fall slowly took over, we told family and friends. For that first half of pregnancy, for the holidays, and into January, everything seemed good! Great even. And now, every year since, this is the calm. Even with Chantry to distract me, I can feel the storm building slowly ahead of us. The months that will always be the storm season for me. Full of memories and hurt and joy, the storm that wrecked my life, and remade me. It’s coming, and it always will be, but for these months, I’ll live in the calm, and remember a time when I was just so excited to be pregnant and carrying a little soul that I dreamed of raising as my own. Even though that didn’t come to pass, and that soul now lives in a different realm, I will remember these months of joy fondly, and try to ignore the storm that will soon break all over again.
I watch her sleep often. She’s so at peace, and it fills me with a sense of calm. But today, today I can’t feel it. Today as I see her peace; mirrored are pictures of children sleeping on floors. Surrounded by other children, not knowing where their parents are, and if or when they’ll see them again. The contrast of this daughter of mine that is protected and safe because of her citizenship, because she was born in this country, and these children that were not, and are being punished for it, traumatized by the same government that says it will protect her. How is that possible? How can people not see? That these children and their parents are us. We are all simply us. I understand that people are “breaking the law” but I just don’t believe that this zero tolerance policy is solving any problems. And I don’t believe that crossing a border warrants losing custody of your children. It is simply traumatizing and breaking apart families. There are ways to secure our borders without hurting these people. Without taking children and placing them in tents. I don’t know how to fix everything, I simply know that I cannot be at peace until I know our government has stopped this. I cannot stand by as this time goes down in history as one more instance that America was nothing more than cruel. Stand up. Call your representatives, do whatever you feel is right to stop this. Because this is not ok. And we won’t be ok until we fix it.
June 1st always takes me by surprise. I think it’s because I’m always certain May 31st will last forever.
I remember this day three years ago in pieces. I was moved to the postpartum wing, into a soundproof room made for women like me, women that didn’t have a baby crying in their arms. I remember them bringing meals, and I remember not eating anything but a bite of cake. I think my family brought more meals that I ate more of. I remember the smell of the hospital room, and the quiet. And the laughter. Because there was laughter that day, in shock or just because we needed to feel anything else for just one second. Our social worker, Maria, came in twice. Once to bring me a teddy bear with a weight at its center to help with the overwhelming feeling of emptiness. Before I thought that sounded strange, but when he was plopped down in my arms, and some part of my soul felt like it might be ok again, I didn’t care how it looked. And once again to tell us the funeral home would pick Austin up soon.
I didn’t cry that day, I didn’t need to, or didn’t know how. I think the loss was too overwhelming to be put into any kind of physical act. It was too much to show anyone. I remember the doctor coming in, and fretting over the fact that my oxygen levels weren’t normal. I didn’t tell her that breathing was the last thing I wanted to do. Breathing was the one thing he couldn’t do. For weeks after I felt a physical weight sitting on top of my chest. I didn’t know how to explain it, other than my heart physically didn’t want to beat anymore. It wasn’t a will to die, and it wasn’t anything like suicidal thoughts, it was just something any mother would feel for a child. Any mother would die in place of her children, and this was the physical manifestation of that sacrifice. My heart didn’t want to beat, My lungs didn’t want to fill. It took months to not feel that weight anymore.
Today, three years later, I can feel the shadow of that weight, but it’s easy to lose it in the weight of Chantry. As a one year old she’s still not aware of her big brother, but she loves the teddy bear he held in his pictures, she laughs every time I let her hold him. She tries often to pick up the other weighted teddy bear, she’s still not quite strong enough. She is the biggest blessing of my life. She brings constant joy and reminds me daily of how much life there is to live. Austin will be there at the end of it all, but until then, we’ll find the joy in the little things, and the big things.