I was honored to have been invited to speak at Christiana Care’s Loving Arms Parent Support Group annual memorial service this past Sunday. It’s a beautiful remembrance of babies gone too soon. Below is what I wrote and read. Thank you to those who proofread this for me and helped me with the ending.
The day I got home from the hospital, babyless, I can’t remember what I did. I think I vaccumed. I’m sure I cried. I’m sure I cursed the semi-unknown relatives that were on my couch, just cursed them for being there. I wanted to just have quiet. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to feel the pain of my c-section scar as I focused on jamming the little attachments into the corners, hearing the dust and crumbs run through the vacuum wand.
I do distinctly remember a few things, in very vivid detail. It was raining, hard. My dog was outside, scratching at the back door with the excitement of seeing me again after a few days. I remember someone asking if he could come in, because he’d jump on me, and he’s a big boy. Yes, of course, let him in. I wouldn’t break. I was already broken.
The other thing I remember was seeing a blue jay on my deck. Not unusual for October, I know. But why then? Why that moment?
I found out my son would be stillborn at a doctors visit. I don’t need to go into details- we’ve all been there. We all have our story. But my horrific words from my doctor were told to me on October 15- Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Why then? Why that moment?
A few days after Hank’s birth, I needed to get out of town. I was sick of my house. I was sick of everything familiar. We went to my parents shore house since they were away for the weekend. We cried. I read Gone Girl in an entire sitting. We went to one of the only places in town that was open in October, and sat inside, overlooking the sea. I’d have a few moments that seemed normal, and then it would all hit me.
A day later, my parents came home early. My husband and I busied ourselves with packing up their photos, important paperwork, sentimental things. See, Hurricane Sandy was about to hit. The bay water was crashing over the bulkhead so hard that when you drove by you needed to turn on your wipers. The ocean was almost up to the dunes. I had a job to do- help my parents, stuff our cars, get back to Wilmington, make sure I had clean sheets for the guest room. A job was what I needed at the time.
As we were driving over the causeway, four cars in a line, hurrying, already pushing through water that was flooding the streets, I thought about what was coming. My parents could lose everything, too, just like my husband and I had a few days prior. Loss comes in many forms.
I gave myself another job to do when we got back to Wilmington. I packed up the nursery. As the rain pounded outside, I jammed things in plastic tubs. I didn’t take my time. I didn’t want help. I didn’t care if Hurricane Sandy came in and washed the entire nursery away.
My parents went home after the storm to a house that, by the grace of God, was still standing. The waterline was high, clearly marked on the side of their house, and someone’s deck from a few blocks over was in their street, and there may have been a random kayak in their yard, but their house was dry. They had power. They didn’t lose anything. They were very lucky. I couldn’t help but think that they were like the parents that got to take a baby home from the hospital.
In the weeks that followed, I busied myself with scouring the internet, trying to figure out what happened to me and my son. I was obsessed with theories about what happened. I decided my degree in advertising suddenly meant I was a doctor, and was sure I knew what the results of the autopsy would be before my doctor even called. I binged on Netflix and hot chocolate, I vacuumed some more. I tried to see friends. They didn’t care if I cried. They didn’t care that I didn’t write thank you notes for gifts from my shower, which was less than 24 hours before learning about what stillbirth even was.
At some point, I decided I was done with Web MD and message boards. I was done with obsessing. I was even done with vacuuming. I decided to attend a Loving Arms meeting, here. My husband came. I know I sobbed to the point where I couldn’t even speak. I never knew what blubbering looked like until then. I probably used an entire box of tissues.
Afterwards, a girl came up to me and hugged me. Her name is Lila. She had a very similar story to mine. She gave me her number, and we realized we lived about a mile from each other. Four years later, we are still very much in touch.
I grieve by DOING. My mind kept going back to the stillbirth statistics. Surely there were more Anne’s and Lila’s. There had to be. I needed to find them. I needed to make a tribe. I grieve with others, openly and unafraid. It was hard to find this tribe, though.
A few months passed. I went back to work. I kept seeing blue jays. I’d always ask myself “why now? Why this moment?”
I put together a March of Dimes fundraising team, and my wonderful friends and family supported our team, Hank’s Hope. My brother suggested “Hope is what we live for” on the back of our shirts. I started to get excited about telling people about Hank, and my story, and why I was open about it. Maybe I could start to find my tribe.
Still couldn’t find them. A friend and my immediate family pushed me to keep moving forward- keep helping, keep seeking. So, I kept talking about Hank. I kept talking about stillbirth awareness. I wasn’t afraid to share. One in four women have had a pregnancy loss. Where were they?
And, in 2015, with some donations from friends, family, and lots of anonymous people out there, I officially founded Hank’s Hope Inc. as a true nonprofit organization. Why? Because hope is what I suddenly was living for. It’s a whole lot better than the alternative. At least you use less tissues.
A week from today will mark four years since I gave birth to my son. Hank’s Hope Inc. is thriving- we provide lots of resources and support for hospitals and bereaved families. We have support groups, we have cry times, we have laugh times. I found my tribe in these women who started to come out of the woodwork. I found these families who were ready to talk about their loss. Some losses were recent. Some were 40 years ago. But we found each other. And we were all hopeful about something.
Why am I here now? Why am I here in this moment?
It’s felt like a lifetime since I sat in this room, shaking, crying, not sure that I could stand up and walk up to the table. Those years were bittersweet for me. I was sad, I was angry, I was depressed, I was hopeful, I was devastated. I still get this way, even now. But I keep that hope with me. I have to.
I visit the memorial tree here at the hospital every so often. When I walk down, I always see a lone, solitary goose. She’s always near that tree (in my mind, she’s a she). I like to think that she’s there to watch over our babies. She and my bluejay must talk- they know I need to see them both.
My advice to you today comes in a few pieces.
Grieve. Only you know how to grieve. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it, move on, let it go. Don’t let anyone tell you that it wasn’t meant to be, that it is God’s way, or that you’ll go on to have another which will make it all better.
Get help. This whole THING is huge, and you can’t do it alone.
Listen to your own heart. What is your purpose going to be? It doesn’t need to be today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. But have one, and have it move you forward.
Lastly, have some hope, whatever it means to you. If it’s a special butterfly, a certain colored pebble, or a dandelion growing out of a crack in the middle of winter. Don’t turn so inward that you can’t see the signs the universe has put before you.
Find your blue jay.