To the Parent Who Had to Say Goodbye Too Soon
I know you don’t know me. I know you might think no one knows how you feel. No one can possibly grasp how your broken heart still struggles to beat. I am here. I have been where you are. Living in that space between wanting to hope for something beyond this, and being afraid that each day you continue living is a day farther away from when they were here. I am here, and I understand.
I lost my first pregnancy and only daughter when I was 34 weeks along. I said goodbye before I even got to say hello. I smoothed hair that would never grow, I held hands that would never grasp. I kissed cheeks that would never smile. I breathed breath into a child that would never take a breath of her own. I loved more than I had ever loved before. I know.
I carried her a week not knowing she had passed. An entire week of an eerie stillness. An entire week of convincing myself the doctors were right, she would slow down; that this is what they meant. An entire week of trembling hands against my belly, telling her how much I loved her. A week of waiting for a prenatal appointment that was coming, waiting for a return phone call from my doctor. Just waiting with bated breath, while she drew none. I was 21. I was lost.
Then I found out. I was devastated; broken; shattered with the weight of never carrying hers again. I held her for hours when I had been promised a life time. Even hours weren’t enough; no time was. I never got to dress her, never got to bathe her. Never saw her look into my eyes, never heard her laugh. All the things that people took for granted. All the moments I thought I would have slipped into nothingness. The silence of her absence — as heavy as the silence of the room she was born into. How could things be so silent when my love for her was so strong? When my want for her was so loud? You never knew so many things could be conveyed in silence. You never knew how much loss silence could hold.
Many times I thought about joining her. I felt a huge part of me took its last breath when she died. I felt like I buried all the best pieces of me right alongside her. That the grass outside may grow, but nothing would ever grow inside of me again besides pain, anger and sorrow. I wondered how I didn’t know, why I couldn’t have protected her better. I felt like I had failed. That I had one job, and I couldn’t even do that. I saw people having babies who didn’t want them. I saw people complaining about their babies keeping them up when I would have given anything to be tired. I saw people ungrateful. I saw myself empty handed, bare armed. I saw kids starting school and I thought to myself, “she would have started kindergarten this year.” But there was no first outfit; no writing names on a book bag. No yellow bus at my door. There was only me. There was no us.
The pain doesn’t get easier, but you do get better at carrying it. Every day that you wake up you remember your child. You think of them. Some days it’s with sorrow, some it’s with happiness for all the lessons they taught you. It’s with a gratefulness for the time you spent together. And yes, it’s a yearning for the time you will spend together again. Every day is one day further from the last day you held them, but one day closer to when you will hold them again. Every day is a day you love them.
Now almost five years later I have two beautiful 4-year-old boys who give me a reason to wake up every single day. Sometimes I see sorrow in their firsts because I know I’ll never got that with her. But mostly, I feel gratefulness. For the extra patience I have learned. For almost never taking them for granted. For realizing what a privilege it is to be someone’s mom. For what simple joys can become, like putting your child on the bus, sending a treat to school, watching them walk, hearing them say “mom” for the first time or “I love you.” From the lesson I have learned: there is a loss in love, but there is also learning and a greater understanding of love than ever before.
Sometimes I am brought comfort in knowing my daughter only knew love every single moment of her existence. As I’m sure your baby did, too. I have found that naming your child, celebrating their “birthday” every year, planting a garden, or donating to a charity of your choice in their honor helps. Or even just reminding yourself every day they were here, they mattered, and they have made you stronger, more empathic and loving than you were before. That they have made you who you are now, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. They have shaped your life in ways you never knew possible. And you have grown from their love. Even if they never will.
I know things seem dark now, and I know your pain is immeasurable. But please trust me when I say things will get better. If I had given into my pain I would have lost all chances I had of bringing a baby home from the hospital. I wouldn’t have met my wife, bought our first house or watched my little boys grow. I would have lost so much more than I have now. And I have lost enough. So have you.
There is happiness out there for you; there is growing from your grief; there is finding the sun in all the sadness. And every day that you continue to live and to love, think of how proud your child is of you, of your strength, of your perseverance, and most of all of your faith in the future.
You can, and you will grow from this.
You will be a much more beautiful person just because of your child’s existence. You will be better. You will be strong. There is no footprint in this world that is too small to leave an impact. Your child mattered, and was and is so loved.
Don’t forget the same thing applies to you.
Author’s note: My precious and only daughter was stillborn at 34 weeks on January 4th 2012. Before that, her brother was born still at 18 weeks on January 6th, 2010. Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you are struggling, even if your child is not in your arms you are no less a mother, no less a father. You matter, your child mattered, and not even death can take away their importance.
And remember going on doesn’t mean forgetting, it means making lots of stories and memories to share with them later.
Also, to my dear Morgan who I saw on the Mighty comments. This one is for you, and for her. Know that I care, and you matter.
Please consider looking into these sites if you are struggling.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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