Lately all of those mommas out there who have suffered the loss of a baby have weighed heavily on my mind. I often wondered how I was lucky enough to grow two babies and bring them into this world alive. I saw a lot of loss when I worked in Labor and Delivery as a nurse. I held 19 week old babies without breath, dressed them in the tiniest hats you’ve ever seen, and took pictures of their feet – so small that their toes would hardly shade the horizon of a quarter. The photos were supposed to help parents with closure. Those shifts, when I worked not just as a nurse, but as a crutch for newly “Vilomah” (Sandskrit for “against the natural order”, a term we can use for parents who have suffered the loss of a child), a clerk filling out all the paperwork required of a death, and memory box maker – putting together footprints, photos and sometimes hair clippings when available, those were the shifts when I made a big difference in a grieving mom’s life. They were also the shifts that caused some of my most debilitating migraines. I was good at this part of my job. It seems morbid to say that but it’s true. I’m good at empathy – probably too good because I feel way too strongly the pain of others. It’s like when I was in anatomy class and we were working with kadavers for the first time. The kadaver (a word we use to depersonalize the fact that we are dissecting human beings) which I was assigned to, had died of esophageal cancer. Seeing this diagnosis made me lose it. My dad had survived esophageal cancer and only months earlier my grandfather had passed away from brain cancer so the scent of death still lingered in my heart. So I left the room with my eyes full of tears, feeling like a failure for not being “more professional”. My professor, Dr. Gayle, gave me a moment and then followed me out of the room to put his arm on my shoulder and let me know that I would be a better nurse because of my compassion and respect for human life.
And when I am touched by a mother grieving the loss of her unborn baby or a child she bore only to witness the end of their short life, that scent of grief is suddenly all too strong. I’ve know two amazing women that have survived a twin pregnancy in which one of the twins died fairly late term and the other twin went on to survive. I’ve know women that have lost an entire twin pregnancy in the second or third trimester. I’ve been privileged enough to witness the grieving process in blog form of a friend who lost her son at 30 weeks. I’ve also seen the heartbreak of friends that announced their pregnancy publicly only to have lost their precious angel baby in the first trimester. I won’t begin to compare this loss. A child lost is a child lost. It’s all the hopes and dreams and memories you had to share with them – gone. It’s that part of your heart that was supposed to grow up and walk around outside of your body that you still have to labor out, with no joyful ending.
I just wanted to write on this subject and say that it’s okay that it’s hard for you to look at pregnant bellies and cooing babies. It’s okay to feel more pain than joy when you tell a close friend congratulations on the birth of their child. You aren’t crazy for bursting randomly into tears. You are Vilomah. And it’s an unnatural order to have the life you create die before you die. It’s unnatural no mater what your age or what your child’s age. My grandmothers should not have seen their adult children die. It’s not okay. I don’t have words to help. Time is the only thing that teaches you to live with the pain of loss. It doesn’t diminish it. There will always be moments when something brings that sharp scent of death back to suck the air right out of your lungs. When you know loss you know that you have known love. I am well acquainted with both. I try to do something meaningful with my life and not take it for granted every day. It doesn’t have to be a huge world changing thing. It could be listening to someone vent, or giving a hug, or writing a blog post inspired by another mom’s pain. I just can’t let the hurt and the bad take my life out of me. What is our grief for if we aren’t living?