I’ve tried to start this post so many times in my head, yet I never knew how to write it. My thoughts and emotions are sometimes so muddled and at other points so very clear. Still the words never come to the surface with much clarity or eloquence. I tried once.
Maybe I feel compelled to try again since I’ve been thinking about a comment on my last post about stillbirth from the lovely Kami at The Other Side (formerly Are We There Yet). Kami has always written with candor about her journey to motherhood through the use of donor eggs after years of failed treatment (read this from one side, and this from the other, for example). On the time between the birth and death of her son Ernest at 27 weeks, and the birth of her Little Butterfly nearly four years later, Kami wrote:
“…I now believe the nearly four years from his birth to LB’s birth took a greater toll on my life than his actual death. That was the worst single experience and certainly had an impact on the next 3.5 years, but I think if I could have conceived easily I wouldn’t have gone a little crazy like I did. Do you think this is true for you?”
Kami, I’m so glad you asked. Because quite honestly the answer is a resounding yes.
Now before anyone jumps, lest they think I intended to replace my dead baby or in any way diminish the pain and anguish of losing any child, hear me out. This is not a competition of who hurts worse, of which pain must seem more unbearable. This is not to suggest even for a moment that having a child in any way diminishes the loss of another different child, or that a new baby could ever replace the one who died. (The deadbabymamas and readers over at glow in the woods and elsewhere have written so eloquently about these issues in this post and others.)
Nothing could ever fill the massive hole left in your heart from losing a much wanted and beloved child. Ever. Period.
What I mean is simply that my grief experience is affected by my life experience. When grieving you tend to feel other unresolved losses, which become inextricably linked, distinct yet intertwined. Life experience converges, joining together to create a whole that is different than the sum of its parts.
Three years ago, I was about 4 weeks pregnant and didn’t know it. The intense joy that followed was sadly fleeting. I think about that precious time with my son and all the hopes and dreams we had for our family. I think how old he’d be now and wonder what he’d look like, what he’d sound like, what would make him laugh. I wonder would he have M’s eyes, or my lips? I think how we never got to know him, since our dream was stolen when he was taken from us at 21 weeks.
Two years later, I recognized that grieving our son and my subsequent infertility were individual unique processes, yet each affected the other. I realized that I had been consumed by grief after his death, and since then the rest of my life had been subsumed by my struggle with infertility.
As I’ve said before, the only thing that helped me through those dark days was the belief that we would try again. We would try to pick up the pieces shattered and scattered by our grief and look towards the future, united with purpose and determination. Yet that hope also became my curse…
February will mark three years since our son’s death, nearly five years since we embarked on our unfruitful journey to bring home a baby, and seven years of facing infertility.
While I never believed for an instant that having another child would erase his death, I did hope it would help heal my poor heart of infertility. The fact that we have been unable to have another child, that I now grieve my fertility with finality, makes me long for my son in a whole different way. I don’t know if it’s deeper or worse, that doesn’t even matter. The point is that as universal as grief is, it’s different for everyone too.
Even with compassion, I cannot fathom the loss that others have experienced. To lose a baby at full term or after the NICU or disease is incomprehensible to me. Women among us lose a child yet must find their way back from anguish to parent living children. Some delicately deal with a grieving child and find a way to explain the concept of death to a young one expecting a sibling on the way. I cannot know what that is like, but can only imagine how difficult that must be. These mothers not only grieve their lost babies, but must find strength to parent other children. And they knew what they were missing along the way.
I can only know my own experience, my own heart.
Just as a woman who has never once been pregnant feels a whole other depth to her infertility, or someone who has suffered multiple losses experiences pregnancy through a different lens, my persistent infertility adds another dimension to my grief experience.
So in answer to Kami’s question, yes, I would absolutely feel differently if I’d been able to have another child. For me, these two losses — the death of my son and the loss of every chance we had for another child — while unique and separate, are inextricably intertwined. Sometimes I feel the distinct longing for my little boy. Sometimes I long for the children we could have had in the time he’s been gone. That I have neither makes me grieve both in a way that is deeper than the anguish I feel over either one alone, I think.
My family will never be complete without our son. Yet in my heart, I know that if I had been able to have another baby, to carry a child to term and hold a newborn in my arms, that would have undoubtedly helped to heal my heart, spirit, mind and body that has been broken by infertility. That love and joy may have helped to heal the gaping wound in my heart left by his absence. Of course that will always run deep. No balm can heal that wound entirely — there is no cure for that kind of loss. But that is not the point.
As I wrote to Kami, there is something about being a barren, childless, grieving mother that makes me feel like not a mother at all. And this is my loss at its fullest.