Category Archives: Grief

Unanswerable

Eleanor has asked more questions about Genevieve lately. We were talking about her last week at dinner, and Eleanor said, “It wasn’t worth it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You went through that, and you didn’t get to bring her home,” Eleanor said.

I stumbled through an answer about how much I had learned from Genevieve’s death, and I’ve thought about that conversation ever since. Would I rather give back that whole experience, including my daughter, and be as innocent as I was before? I can’t answer that.

I’m more sympathetic now, at least for people truly deserving of sympathy. I feel a kinship with people who have endured cancer or lost a spouse or parent young, anybody who has gotten the losing end of statistics. On the flip side, I have difficulty being sympathetic about small, passing things.

I suppose I’m more grateful. It’s been so long since I was a “normal” parent that it’s hard to remember how I felt then. How can you measure gratitude anyway? I donate more to charity and spend more time thinking about how I can do meaningful work. I probably complain less than I used to. On the flip side, again, I have a hard time listening to others complain. I have always been bad at small talk and am worse at it now. Yes, the weather is cold. But two of my kids are alive!

The book that my book group selected for this month has a scene with a dead infant. I didn’t know when we picked it, and the scene prevented Greg from sleeping for a few nights. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to read the book.

We’re planning summer vacations, and I’ve already blocked out the middle of July. The 15th is cookouts and beaches and ice cream — smack dab middle of summer. It’s also a week during which, I suspect, I will never again take a vacation.

So it’s easy to imagine that I might prefer a life where I could vacation in the middle of July, where I could read the book or watch the movie and feel only passing sadness at the baby who dies, where I could see the birth announcement and feel joy without the nagging undertow of “Why me?”

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that I wouldn’t trade my younger daughter for all of that. But I didn’t know her. So would I trade those nine months of hope and expectation for a lifetime of not knowing how it feels to lose a child?

I wish I didn’t have to ponder that question.

Rethinking baby showers

The first time I met with a therapist after Genevieve’s death, she told me to make a list of the steps I wanted to take to start leading a normal life again. Some of my early goals were: feel comfortable leaving my house and be happy for other people who have good news. I started therapy four months after Genevieve died, and even though I was leaving my house, I didn’t want to be. Every trip to the grocery store came with the possibility that I would see a happy pregnant lady or a newborn. Either of those things would leave me crying for the rest of the day.

As for being happy for my friends, that took much longer than I expected. I could not accept that good things kept happening to other people when my life had collapsed. It took me years to recover my generosity. I don’t think I really celebrated for anyone until Henry was born. Let’s all give thanks that he is here so that I no longer have to live as an evil troll (even though I totally earned that right).

My long-term goals, things that I wanted to accomplish in six to twelve months, were: be okay around babies and be emotionally ready to have another baby myself. I did start seeing friends who had babies, though I didn’t want to initially. And I was certainly ready for a baby. Going through that next pregnancy would be sheer terror no matter how long I waited.

One goal that I didn’t put on my list was to attend a baby shower. I swore off baby showers after Genevieve. Really, I wanted to avoid baby showers until my own children had kids. I couldn’t stomach the hope, people assuming that they would bring home a baby. And what could I say at such a party? Shower conversations inevitably turn to labor stories or memories of colicky newborns. And if your baby was born breathing, your labor doesn’t sound that bad to me. I imagined speaking up — ruining the party. Or, more likely, I would say nothing and then spend days fuming about the unfairness of it all.

Some friends of mine wanted to throw a shower after Henry was born, and I agreed. It was lovely. Everyone knew my story, so no pretending was required.

Now one of those friends who threw my shower is about to have a baby, and I am invited to the shower. I am going, and I bought the baby gift without tears. I didn’t even think of crying. I continue to be amazed at the way time can change me. Where once I saw pregnancy as a minefield, I now know that is true for only an unlucky few. (There are a lot of us, but statistically we are few.) And if everyone at that shower doesn’t know what I have been through, that’s okay. That is no betrayal of Genevieve. I know that I’m her mom.

I still get messages from mothers who have just gone through a stillbirth, and all I can say is keep going, keep going, keep going. Eventually, some of that dark space is going to fill with joy, enough joy that you will even be able to share it with others.

One day for remembering

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This one day seems so small in the face of what it is recognizing, but it is something, at least.

Greg and I went on a date a few days ago, and we were having a discussion about finding purpose in life, and a minute later I was crying over my pumpkin ravioli. I will spend every single day missing my daughter. And even though I’ve lived with that for more than three years, I still have moments where I’m not sure how to keep living with it.

Most of my hours are filled with chaos, joy, messes, reprimands. My life looks, and feels, mostly normal. But when we gather with all of the families in our neighborhood, and I see that gaggle of 3- and 4-year-olds (We are literally the only family without a preschooler.), I wonder who Genevieve would be chasing. Am I the only one remembering?

If you remember, light a candle tonight. And thank you.