Entries in “Letters to Adrian” are posted in monthly batches on a one-year delay. Please check back on the first of the next month for the next set of letters.
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Think of something people do everyday. Crossing the street, for example. On the surface, fairly mundane. Some small danger (make sure you look both ways) but generally not any cause for concern.
Now imagine one day you were crossing the street, and you were hit by a bus. No warning, no notice; you were completely unprepared. This is obviously something that’s possible, but not the kind of thing that happens everyday. Not to most people. But now that it’s happened to you, you are wary. You are no longer able to cross the street without fear. Other people do it, and you can see that it’s safe, but for you, you are always going to hold on to that memory. And no matter how much time, and how much therapy, you’re always going to be a little bit afraid. You’re always going to be a bit more aware that something like that can happen to you; to your friend; to anyone in the world at any time, on any random Thursday morning.
Now imagine there’s something you want on the other side of that street, something priceless and beautiful that will bring you much Joy. This thing is unique, created just for you, and it exists only for a limited time.
The first time you tried to cross the street, you were on your way to that Joy. You had anticipated it, gotten your home and family all prepared. But then you got hit by the bus, and it disappeared. That particular piece of Joy is now gone; it will never be available again. And some people, who may not understand, will tell you that Joy is always there, and you just have to cross the street again. But you know better. The Joy you lost is irreplaceable.
And someday, you may try to cross that street again anyway. You aren’t looking for a replacement Joy, but you are ready for an additional Joy to accompany the Pain. And as you take the first steps into that street again, you realize you are terrified. And you are surrounded, again, by people who don’t understand. People who step so blindly around the crosswalk, as if buses never existed.
But you know better. You know the importance of the lines of the crosswalk and staying inside. You know about looking both ways, not just once, but throughout the journey. You know about paying attention when cars honk, or the lights change. You know that buses frequently come up out of nowhere and take us all by surprise.
And some people, even those who know, still don’t understand why you have so much trouble with this journey. “It was a one-time thing,” they say. “The traffic conductor will protect us.” But you see the traffic conductor; you watch him ignoring important signs, and you remember the first time you tried to cross the street, and he told you, “Don’t worry–everything is fine.” And you see him now as he tells other people that buses don’t exist, but you know better. And you know you can’t cross the street based on a lie.
So you take this journey, eyes wide open, and you accept that it is terrifying. And you look both ways, and you take all the precautions, and you maybe trust, but if so, you also verify. And you keep your eye on Joy, and it feels like both the longest and also the shortest journey of your life, and it feels like you alone know that none of it is guaranteed.
This is what it’s like to think of pregnancy after loss. This is what it’s like to hold your child inside, and wonder if this will be the day that he or she will die. It’s a nightmare. It’s terrifying. And if you want living children, it’s part of your life.
Miranda’s Blog: 1 January 2019
Miranda’s Blog: Why Getting Pregnant Easily Isn’t a Gift
Miranda’s Blog: 13 June 2019 (needs to be posted)
In my twenties, when I thought about having children, I assumed I would meet someone, get married, and life would move forward from there. Of course, life doesn’t always happen the way we plan. When I hadn’t found the “right” person by age 30, I realized I needed to make a choice — I could either keep looking for a partner and gamble on decreasing fertility and increasing odds of birth defects as I aged, or I could focus on what I decided was more important to me — having a child. I chose to become a Single Mother by Choice.I never thought being a single mother would be easy, but odds weighed, it was the right decision for me. Because I acknowledged the difficulty, and because I wanted to give my child the best possible future, I spent a few years getting ready. I paid off debt, bought a house, finished my Master’s Degree, and situated myself into a new position where I wasn’t working the crazy hours I used to. It took time, and there were a few hiccups, but everything mostly came together easily.
When I became pregnant, I was ecstatic. There was never a time I wasn’t wholly committed to and excited about my son. I bought his first onesie the day of my positive pregnancy test, and I started interviewing doulas at six weeks. I built my life around ensuring I was prepared to be his mom.
Our pregnancy wasn’t “easy,” but it was fairly textbook. I planned for a midwife-assisted natural birth, but continued seeing a more traditional hospital-based practice in case of emergency. I attended classes and read all the books. I thought I was prepared for everything.
On 29 June, 2017, during a routine medical appointment on the morning of my 41st week of pregnancy, I was informed my son had no heartbeat. I had experienced symptoms of preeclampsia, and he had been moving less than usual the previous week, but none of my providers had been concerned. Despite concurrent care, participation in a home nurse education program, and 50+ hours spent reading books and attending childbirth classes, I was blindsided. I had no idea that babies died.
I spent the next year of my life in a fog. Instead of monthly photos, blowout diapers, and breastfeeding, I dealt with milk donation, missed milestones, and grief-induced stupidity. Human interaction became incredibly difficult. Some people said insensitive and stupid things, and some disappeared entirely. When I went back to work after only 7 weeks, my greatest fear was divided between crying if someone asked about my son, and crying if they didn’t. And through it all, I continued to experience all the normal aspects of being postpartum. I was a mother without a living son.
One of the few things I am grateful for is that I wrote to my son throughout our pregnancy. I wrote to him in excitement; I wrote to him in love. And after he died, I kept writing. About three months after his death, I thought about sharing these letters in some public way. I was nervous, but I wondered if this might be a method to share important information with the world. Because it’s an important and misunderstood aspect of nature that babies die, and mothers grieve. And grief is both natural and real.
Nine months later; one year after the death of my son, I am launching this site. I am sharing this story with all of you.
Thank you for being here.
Death has never been my friend. The necessity of her existence is no more comfort than my own. I don’t hate her, but I look at her the way she looks at Disease. We are all harbingers. We all bring Pain.
I slip in sideways, just after Shock. Her job, at least, is sometimes good. It’s also shorter–she gets to flit away afterwards and dance with the thunderstorms.
My job is more complicated. I don’t dance; I sidle. I ooze in to fill the cracks. I soak up sun light with darkness. I choke away everything but Pain.
Nobody wants to face Grief. Nobody wants to understand Death. I have to create this environment because without darkness, my voice is too soft.
I stroke her cheek. I sing to her. Sometimes I bring Memory and we sing together. Memory is one of my favorite people, because inside her, everyone lives. But Memory’s best friend is Future, and Future does nothing for me.
When Memory has finished singing, and Future has released her dreams, Reality comes. And that’s when I’m most needed.
Who better to understand the emptiness? Who better to hold her through screams? Who better to wail with her keening? Who better; who better than me?
I won’t ever tell her she’s whining. I won’t say he’s in a “better place.” I won’t condemn her if she reaches for me in 10 years; I’ll be here. I will reach for her too.
And I tell her, “There won’t always be darkness. When my voice is familiar, some light will seep in. When my voice is familiar, you will make friends with Joy. She’s waiting for you. She’s best friends with Patience.”
And I tell her, “Come meet my twin sister. Though you already know her, she lives inside you. She lives in the Love that you hold for your child. And that’s where I met you, where I’ll always find you.”
And I want to say more that is comforting, but that isn’t my duty; it wouldn’t be real. I exist as her constant reminder of the unwanted power and permanence of Death. And if I had a choice, I would shield her from everything. I would shoulder her suffering, and soak up her tears. But that too is denied me. I can only hold her, sing duets with Memory, remind her of Pain. I can only live here, her constant companion, as long as she’ll let me, as long as she Loves.
I’m taking this course in writing about my grief, but I’m not going to write about grief alone.
I think I used to think that grief was A Thing. A distinct event, finite; a period in someone’s life when they were sad.
Prior to this past year, I’ve lost so few people, experienced so very little death. I never realized grief could become this all-encompassing extra layer. I never imagined the kind of loss that would make me struggle to want to take breath.
Grief is not finite. Grief is not singular. Grief is not A Thing. Grief is a new layer.
Grief is learning to hate the question, “How are you?” Grief is examining every interaction for meaning and depth. Grief is constantly editing yourself, deciding how much to reveal of the yawning darkness, and how much to pretend that everything is okay. Grief is running away from social conventions.
Grief is waking up in the morning and deciding to never get out of bed. Grief is starving yourself to lose weight so strangers stop asking when your baby is due. Grief is losing yourself in workplace minutia so you don’t have to actually think.
Grief is long walks at dusk, hiding in shadows so people can’t see you. Grief is running your fingers over the chains of a swing set at the park and knowing your child will never do this too. Grief is that first moment home from the hospital, with your dog racing around you, and your realization that she will never know her younger brother. Grief is hearing her bark change to a pitiful, whining cry and thinking, “Me too, little lady. Me too.”
Grief is uncomfortable second guessing. “Why didn’t I know something was wrong?”
Grief is constant flashbacks — images of strangers who held your hand, who let you fall apart. Grief is learning in hard moments what people really mean to you. Grief is choosing to live when your heart needs to die.
Grief is driving away from the hospital with nothing but a teddy bear. Grief is the feeling of your sister’s arms when you cry out in the night and forget where you are.
Grief is the knowledge that you would have given your life to save your son, and renewed understanding that no one has ever felt this way about you. Grief is the realization that forgiveness is not a one-time event, but something that happens repeatedly on every new broken day.
Grief is learning that you also need to forgive yourself.
Grief is understanding that everyone is fighting their own battles, and no one has it any easier, or any harder, than you. Grief is learning that life goes on, no matter how much you wish it were possible to stop time. Grief is choosing to live when your heart yearns to die.
Grief is the first time you laugh again, and the intermittent guilt. Grief is discovering the joy that exists between tears. Grief is choosing to live, heart heavy and light.
I used to think that grief was this sad time that followed the death of someone you loved. I never imagined it was really this new layer, this new identity. I never imagined the loss I was grieving would include the loss and rebirth of me.
In this program I am going to write about grief, but I am also going to write about everything else. Because grief is not any one thing. Grief is in all things. Grief is everything.
Grief lives in the fabric of your new life.
In January of 2018, I was foundering. I had just moved to a new city, I was sad and lonely, and I felt torn between throwing myself into the world and cuddling around my grief as the only thing that felt familiar to me.
A few months prior, a friend had mentioned a writing program that she felt helped her explore her grief. At the time, I was writing so much I didn’t think I needed any additional prompting, but I kept it in mind.
In January of 2018, I was reminded of this program, and I decided I needed to try something new. The following posts are the result of my thirty days of participation in this course, plus a handful of the monthly prompts that followed. Some entries are long, some are short. Some are 3rd or 4th or 7th drafts. A few days, I didn’t write at all, although I always read every prompt and sat with it. Writing can be painful. It was a pain I needed.
If you are interested in trying this course for yourself, please visit Refuge in Grief. I highly recommend it.
I am a weed. They say I am strong, but I do not aim to be so. I don’t aim to be anything. I’m just here.
My roots are tenacious. They cling to the soil, dig deep. Something in my backbone doesn’t want to die. I don’t think about it, it’s just ingrained in me.
Some weeds have flowers. I have my moments too. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I have good days. On those days, my flowers bloom. They turn towards the sun, and people say, “Wow, how beautiful for a weed.” Some days my flowers are gone, ripped off my stalk like so much trash. I am, after all, just a weed.
I keep growing. My roots are deep. Without direction, my backbone fights to find the light.
They don’t tell me I’m strong like this is a gift. My strength can be a curse, to them and to me. Sometimes I don’t want to find the sun. Sometimes, I would rather lie down and sleep. I envy those hot house plants, the Fragile ones, the ones that fall apart under any adversity. On those days, my strength is a weakness. On those days, I curse that I live.
They tell me I’m strong, but I am just a weed. Strength is nothing to me.
Miranda’s Blog: Strong