Thursday, October 10, 2013

Empathy--My Final Birth Story

Empathy--the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions

Every journey through the loss of a child is different. It doesn't matter if you lost your child as an infant, as a toddler, as a teen, as an adult--or if they never even took their first breath. No one's journey is harder or easier--each journey is just different.   I don't claim to tell anyone else's story.  This just happens to be mine.

For Heather and Greg--
How I wish I could change this last week of your life.  How I wish I could do something to alleviate your pain.  Just know that I love you, and that you are not alone in your journey. I love you like one of my own.  I haven't felt compelled to share my complete story of loss until now. This post is for you. I hope it helps.

I have a small blue treasure box (hand painted with roses) that protects a set of precious, tiny memories.  
I had two pink stripes on a pregnancy test. 

It was June of 2002, and we were on vacation in Mexico with some friends. My period was late.  I was never late, but I didn't really consider the possibility that I could be pregnant until we had been in Mexico for four days and there was still no sign that my period was going to start.  Brad and I took a small detour to a Mexican pharmacy, where I bought a kit that informed me that I was indeed embarazada. After needing six rounds of Clomid to get pregnant with Lily, we had indeed succeeded without even trying.  We were excited.

I have a crocheted baby afghan no bigger than a kitchen rag, a small teddy bear, a seashell, and a knitted baby hat that would fit a racquetball inside that blue treasure box. 
I had an expanding waistline under a red gingham maternity shirt.
Heidi was eleven, Tucker had just turned ten, Ben was six, and our baby, Lily Jane, was two.  My hands and my days were full of mothering, and I was happy.  I always carried my pregnancies straight out front, and it was no secret to anyone that we were expecting again. 

I have a soft pink washcloth used for a blanket and a miniature headband made by my own hands with a bow in the center inside that blue treasure box.  
I had flutterings in my stomach.
Although getting pregnant was difficult, my actual pregnancies were joyous times for me.  I always felt great.  Sometime around fifteen weeks, I started feeling those unique butterflies that only come from new life inside.  I treasured every tickle, every private moment I shared with my baby.  I had been spotting and feeling some pressure, but that was nothing unusual for me; the doctors were monitoring it.  In fact, I went to see the doctor just the day before, where the nurse strapped me to the monitor to assure me that Baby was strong and good--"Listen to that heartbeat," she said. "I will schedule you for an ultrasound in the morning, just to be sure, but I think everything will be fine."

I have a full pewter photo album which I assembled whenever I could be alone. 
I had blood--there was so much blood--and a middle-of-the-night emergency to the hospital. 
We left all four kids asleep in the house that night, not knowing what time we would return. I grabbed a red hand towel from the hall bathroom as we left the house, hoping it would mask how much blood there was.

I will never buy another red towel.

I have poems, scriptures, quotes, and photographs glued carefully and lovingly on embossed linen paper, all inside that pewter photo album.
I had one lucid moment before I was lifted to the examination table.
Brad ran into the L&D entrance of the hospital to get a wheelchair for me. I had one final moment alone in the Suburban, and that is when I knew.  I whispered out loud, "Good-bye, Baby," before I was gently helped into the wheelchair by my sweetheart and rushed into the hospital. 

I have a matching set of tiny--oh, so tiny--handprints and footprints, made from purple ink that was pressed onto pink paper.
I had a baby.  A baby girl.
It was over before the doctor could even make it into the room. I was blessedly unconscious for the actual delivery, my body performing a task to which my heart never could have agreed. We spent a few difficult hours in that hospital room, building sacred memories that should have been formed over decades but instead needed to be completed by morning. Brad returned to our four sleeping children, making it back home before any of them knew we had ever left. 

I have a white rose bush growing in what is now another woman's yard.  
I had one small vase in my hand.
We left the hospital as early as they would discharge me. I was carrying a small blue treasure box (hand painted with roses) in one hand and a bud vase with three daisies and a single white rosebud in the other hand. My arms were glaringly, achingly empty. Before getting Lily from my Aunt Alison's house, we stopped for some breakfast. I had no appetite.

I have a dried rose topiary in the back of my bathroom cupboard. 
I had my own private funeral.
Flowers and meals and friends who had no idea what to say filed through my home.  I would sob on the couch in my cheery yellow living room for hours, looking from vase to vase, trying to find my old self again: the self who had never known such pain, such gut-wrenching, heart-searing, mind-numbing pain. I would never find that old self again. She is gone forever now.

I have a broken silver locket that cradles a single black and white photograph.  
I had a broken silver locket around my neck every day for eleven months.
One day in the shower, my milk came in.  What some women would have seen as a curse, I counted it as a blessing.  My body really had nurtured a child, and if she had waited until February, my body would have cared for her just as it had cared for her four older siblings. Each time I showered, I watched her milk and my tears run down my body to the drain until the milk dried up a few days later.  My tears didn't try up. Two weeks later, I found myself walking through the mall, and I couldn't understand how the world had kept going while I had cocooned myself with grief. Didn't they know that my entire world had changed?  Couldn't they see the pain on my face?

I hungered for some physical evidence that my whole pregnancy--my baby--had been real. I had a silver locket, and I placed inside it the only evidence I had that she had ever been on earth--a fuzzy black and white photograph of my tiny baby cradled in her mother's hands. My hands.

At two years old, Lily didn't understand why her baby sister lived in heaven or why they would never play together, so she would often crawl into my lap and ask if she could see her sister, then she would reach for the chain around my neck.  One day, she handled the locket too clumsily--but gently for a two year old--and the clasp on the locket broke.  My anger and tears rushed to the surface uncontrolled for the first time in months, and her shocked little face softened as she reached up to my face and wiped away my tears. "Don't cry, Mommy.  It's okay." She was right.

Not knowing how to fix the locket permanently, I glued it shut and wore that locket every day until my baby's first birthday--September 10, 2003.  I would finger it absentmindedly many times during the day, flooding my mind with memories.  Sometimes memories would trigger tears, but as time passed, the tears grew fewer and the memories grew sweeter. Over the next few years, three more babies joined our family, but never again would I take for granted the miracle of pregnancy and a safe, healthy delivery.

I have seven beautiful, wonderful, adored children. 
I had eight.
I have eight beautiful, wonderful, adored children. When September 10th rolls around each year, I catch myself thinking about how our family would have been different.  Would Evie have a blond, blue-eyed twin?  Where would this missing daughter be standing in our family picture? Who would be her best friend? What would be her favorite book? What dress would I have bought her for Tucker's wedding? It's the little things that flit through my brain.  Little things.

I know that one day I will see my Ella again.  The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that families can be together forever.  Life continues beyond earth. Families are eternal units. Grief is real, yet temporary. Growth is possible, yet elusive.

While I almost always respond that I am the mother of seven children to avoid a lengthy explain, I never, ever, ever forget the truth.

I have eight.


  1. I always count 8. My heart hurts for Heather and Greg. I am so grateful for the knowledge that families are forever. Beautiful post Jen.

    Lots of love,

  2. Thanks for sharing this Jen...I'm praying it helps more than just your friends!

  3. You express this so beautifully. I remember very well what you endured. Interesting how certain things trigger those memories. How your heart aches so terribly for something unseen - the world does go on oblivious to your hidden breaking heart. And you can litterally feel your heart breaking. Those tiny hands and perfect features that the world sees as disposable are forever imprented on a mothers heart. I rarely think of my 3 boys and my only daughter. But when I do - my eyes still well up. I am a mother of 6. But the secret held close is that I am really the mother of 10.

  4. Jenny

    Beautifully expressed. My mother lost her 5th child at the same time along in the pregnancy. I was 14 at the time and vividly remember the depths of her despair and depression. My mother knew it was a girl and named her Helen. 3 years later my youngest brother James was born and he became the 5th living child. It was an easy pregnancy and he was and still is a most remarkable child and that made up for her loss. When she was dying I remember her saying how much she was looking forward to meeting Helen.

  5. I guess your tears will always come at this memory. Mine are there, too.

  6. I am Greg's sister in law. I saw your blog through Robin. My heart hurts every day for Heather and Greg. Thank you for sharing your words and your story. What a time of deep sorrow for them but I am thankful that they are not alone, and that we have the Gospel knowledge that we will see those sweet boys again; and your Ella also. Thank you for letting me stop by, I am sure your words are a comfort to them.

  7. I am so sorry for your friends, who cannot help but be buoyed up by this beautiful gift you have given today.

    My heart goes out to them...and to you, Jen.

    (And yes, I am all weepy now. Sending hugs, too.)

  8. This is heartbreakingly beautiful. I am thankful to have read this, and while I was not part of your life when you lost your sweet girl, I am thankful to be here now.

  9. this is so beautiful jen!
    I know some of that pain.
    but I know your words will help so many people who are going through this too.

  10. i never really understood the pain of losing a child until it happened..i mean i had friends and i 'thought' i understood their loss...when i lost baby #5 and my body went through a type of labor..i remember wanting to scream out long and hard NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO as if i could prevent it.
    then it was like it never there was no baby...just when i thought the mourning was over something triggers it and it started all over again.
    this month would have been my due date for that sweet baby 3 years ago... i always think of how that child would have looked or how he/she would have played with the others....2 more babies have followed the one we lost....
    i am so blessed to have been that little lost one's mommy for a few short months though....i can't wait to see him/her one day too!

  11. {{{hugs}}} for you. for your family. for your friends. for every woman whose had to say goodbye way too soon to a child that didn't get to grow up within our motherly arms' reach. for my own heavenly treasure who left a small hole in my heart in 1994.

  12. I read this the other day and didn't have time to comment...and was a bit sad. I know this kind of pain. For me, I have pushed it so far back in my's easier that way. However, every August, I think about my baby having a birthday and what year we would be celebrating. I'm so sorry for your friend's loss...and for yours. You write about it so beautifully.

  13. It was you, my friend, who carried me through MY heart ache, my loss. It was you, my friend, who was by my side when my milk came in, and I was without my own mother or family members in my desperate time of need. If is YOU, my friend, who will have her name blessed throughout all eternity for your kindness and love that you showed to me during MY own loss of my sweet Emma. Thank you for sharing this story. Thank you for being there for me all those years ago (7 1/2 to be exact). I love you for giving your heart and helping me (and others) feel that they are not alone.

  14. I just discovered this post through the Clover Lane blog. On the exact day this was posted, I was at my OB appointment finding out that my 16 week old baby no longer had a heartbeat. He was my fifth also. I miscarried him on Oct. 20 and because I was not at a hospital and had to go via ambulance, I never got to see him or hold him. Thank you for this post. It is good to know that I am not the only one who experienced four perfect pregnancies only to mysteriously lose the fifth. It is also nice to know that it is possible and highly probable to have several more pregnancies that will not end in tragedy. Thank you for your story.

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