Today's post comes to us from Loribeth of The Road Less Travelled. After trying to conceive for more than two years, Loribeth and her husband rejoiced in pregnancy only to deliver their daughter Kathleen Maria (Katie) at 26 weeks gestation. Two more years of infertility testing & treatment followed Katie's stillbirth before the couple made the difficult decision to remain childless/free, and inspired by the pregnancy loss support group they discovered after their loss of Katie, Loribeth and her husband now volunteer with the group as facilitators.
"January 12 was my 48th birthday," Loribeth explains. "In 2008 I relived, in sometimes agonizing detail, the events of ten years earlier when Katie was born still. I'm a loyal Glow in the Woods reader, and it made sense to me this month -- just over a decade from the start of our journey -- to write about the passage of time and infant loss."
photo by s~revenge
The popular misconception, of course, is that time heals all wounds -- and outwardly, at least, that would appear to be the case.
I get up and go to work every morning. I attend meetings, send e-mails, have lunch with friends, laugh at colleagues' stories about their kids, do the banking and run errands. I clean house and cook. I call my mother every Sunday night.
For the most part, I function normally in the world.
Anyone who sees me would never guess how very different things were ten years ago, or even seven years ago when we made the extremely difficult decision to abandon infertility treatment and continue our life without children.
With the passage of time, our friends, families and co-workers seem to have forgotten our daughter, or shoved the memory of what happened into the recesses of their minds. Most of the people we've met over the past decade -- with the exception of those we’ve met through our volunteer work as pregnancy loss support group facilitators -- have no idea that I was pregnant, that we had a child, that the tragedy of stillbirth and the pain of infertility has so profoundly touched our lives. It's like I have this secret identity, this other life that I only feel safe revealing when I'm at home with my husband, or online, or with other bereaved parents -- people who have been there, done that, and understand in a way that few others can.
So outwardly, life has gone on, much the same as before. Inwardly, of course, it's another story.
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My favourite line from Elizabeth McCracken's fabulous stillbirth memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is Closure is bullshit. For me, there has never been any 'closure' following my daughter's stillbirth.
It's not that I still feel that my grip on sanity is tenuous... most days. But I freely admit that, after more than 10 years, there is not a single day -- sometimes not an hour -- in which I don't find myself thinking about my pregnancy, my daughter, my infertility, my involuntary childlessness.
It is with me -- she is with me -- always. Sometimes it's just a fleeting thought, sometimes obsession. There are days when it nudges around the outer edges of my consciousness, and days when I sit in my cubicle with work piling up around me and all I can do is read stillbirth and infertility websites, articles and blogs. Even after ten years, I still crave the validation they provide -- the certain knowledge that somebody else out there has been through this too and understands exactly how I feel.
There are obvious triggers -- babies, pregnant women, the window displays at Baby Gap. Some moments take me by surprise like a sucker-punch in the gut. The thing is, I never know exactly how I'm going to react until I'm in the moment. There are days -- and certainly many, many more than there were 10 years ago -- when I can admire a colleague's baby and take genuine pleasure in holding her. And there are other days when I have to duck out the side door at the first faint wail drifting down the hallway toward my cubicle. I've sat at baby showers where I could barely stand to see the adorable little outfits emerge from their boxes and gift bags, and at others where, if not exactly enthralled by the proceedings, I've managed to chat with the other women around me and have a reasonably pleasant time.
Parents whose children have died often hear the cliche, time heals all wounds. I wouldn't say this is true. Yet I can't deny, as another stillbirth mother once said to me: Time doesn’t exactly heal... but it does help.
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Yes, I still think of my daughter all the time. Yes, grief can still rise up and strike me, leaving me gasping and reeling. I sometimes think of grief as ebbing and flowing, like the tide -- with a big wave rolling in every now and then to shake things up and reshape the shoreline.
But most of the time, I'm okay. Anyone who sees me would never guess that I'm not. And most of the time, I really am. Despite the baby I will always miss and the things I will never get to experience with her, my life is still, on the whole, a pretty good one. With a wonderful husband, a comfortable home, a job that's never boring with colleagues I like, a loving extended family and good friends both online and in real life. And I have a daughter who is still very much an important part of that life, even though she never drew a breath on this earth.
I would have preferred a life that included actively parenting my daughter. Nothing will ever compensate for her absence but since I can’t change it, I can focus on the good things I have around me. One of my favourite quotes, from Joseph Campbell, is this:
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
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Another bereaved mother and real-life friend recently asked me if I still think of Katie as a baby or as a 10-year-old and my reply was that it’s probably somewhere in between. I can picture the toddler or preschooler she would have been very clearly -- the 10-year-old, I'm having more trouble with, and don't even ask me about the teenager or the college graduate. My mother recently said to me I can't believe you're almost 50 -- neither can I, Mom! Like any mother, I think, I find it hard to believe my daughter would be as old as she would be, were she here -- that she'd be growing up and getting older as I get older too.
No matter how old both my mother and I get, I will always be her little girl.
And Katie will forever be mine.