The grief was so hard to live with in the year after Ruthie Lou died and especially while waiting for her brother to be born healthy and living. All encompassing fog reared its ugly head over mine for 24 hours every, single day without fail. There was no escaping and I could not possibly see the sunshine through the storm.
I never imagined how returning to a normal life would feel. I couldn't imagine it, for this life after death was not a life that I had yet lived. The "normal" life before my daughter barely resembles our life now, but normal life has returned. The daily stresses, worries, laughter, joy and best of all, peace. It feels good to breathe the fresh air back into my lungs when for so long, I could hardly breathe at all.
And now, here we are again expecting another rainbow (baby). It brings up all the grief, the fear, the longing. It is again, a conscious choice to tend to my heart, to take care of my health. We live with one foot in holding waiting for baby, as the other moves forward in the life we now lead.
But this sacred time of growth also brings hope. The thought of chancing it all for more joy, more love. Can this baby be ours? Is this real? I love this life growing inside me already-that happened so fast! And it is terrifying. I want to wrap this little one up safely and keep him/her to myself until July arrives and then announce to the world, "baby is here, safe and alive!"
But alas, my belly gives me away. It continues to grow in magnitude and beauty and I cannot hide the joy that this baby has already brought to my life. I am a walking billboard for all baby questions, comments and advice. I smile, am gracious and grateful for offered joy but although my skin is thicker now, I am still scared. I want this baby so bad, it hurts.
So while my chest has tightened once again with grief surfacing amongst joy, I know that there is light through this fog. I need only put one foot in front of the other. I make the decision each day to lean into the innocent joy of others and hope with all hope that this is our second happy ending.
All while I wait to smell that fresh air again. Because this time, I know it's there.
What does pregnancy after loss looks like?
This is not my first rainbow baby but it may as well be. I got pregnant with my son four months after my daughter died at 33 days old. I don't know if the exhaustion from that time was from pregnancy or from grief, but I was knocked out for quite some time.
This time four years later, I thought it would feel different-better or easier perhaps. As if being pregnant and caring for a toddler would be any easier than being pregnant and grief stricken. They are both so challenging. But this time I'm out of the fog of grief. So I'm very clear when my emotions are overtaking me.
Today I needed to find a sweater that's it. I came out to the bins of clothes that I had saved from both my pregnancies-five bins in total. We recently moved so most my bins have lost their labels forcing me to delve into every single bin on the shelf. The very last one, the big one, contained my daughters quilt for her crib, clothes from hanging in her closet and the letters that spelled her name on the wall. I pulled out the special clothes remembering my girlfriends who bought and hung them on the wall of my baby shower. The quilt was longed for, for weeks I searched until I found the perfect one. And the letters (they never had the chance to be painted) are now missing a few because I borrowed them to share with her brother and they hang on the wall of his toddler room.
I could feel my stomach rise to my throat and I felt the surge of heat overcome me that I experienced when they told me my daughter wouldn't survive. I rushed back inside to vomit. I sipped my lemon water and cooled my face to recover.
This pregnancy (as I tell myself) is a different story, a different baby, a different journey and outcome, but it is terrifying nonetheless. I have moments of panic and moments of peace, but I'm always giving my myself the grace that my emotions are part of the process and in order to maintain health, feeling them are all part of it.
This is pregnancy after loss. It never ends. It doesn't discriminate and appears anywhere, anytime-even from inside garage bins.
I just want to crawl under the covers, lift my blanket over my head and "be" with you. I want to remember every moment of your life and relive it with you; finding out we were pregnant, feeling your kicks, going into labor, holding you for the first time, feeling the hope that we would bring you home, even the moments after we knew you would leave us. I want to relive every moment of your life, including your death. I want to be in your space and relish in the moments that will never return. I want to be naive and believe in all that is good and right in the world again.
Post Traumatic Stress is not a disorder, it's the reality of facing a world when your life experience has changed every fiber of your being, of having to assimilate a new reality when all that you have believed and loved is gone. It is very real. You are not here and that isn't natural, it isn't right, but it is truth. This day still feels unreal, it has to be a nightmare but it's not. It's our life. It's part of the beauty that we live every day, its evident in our family, in our life and how we love each other. You are part of that because you were here and are still here in everything that we do.
But on these special days when my heart is being ripped from my chest, in the moments reserved just for you, I need my thoughts, my quiet, my sacred space. To be alone in the only way I know how. To look at your pictures, to watch your videos, to listen to your music. I need to mind myself that yes, I had a beautiful daughter and yes, she is not physically here anymore and yes, I survived and am surviving this unfathomable loss. You are okay, your family is okay, you will be okay.
Instead of planning your birthday party, I have to plan how will I honor you today? What will I spend the day doing? It pains my heart to know I will never send out invitations, buy your decorations, sing happy birthday until you blew out your candles. But you were born on this day and that was the happiest moment of my life. Your perfect gorgeous little chunky body that fit perfectly nestled among mine, that is all I will get.
So instead, I try to understand. I edit your photos. I write love letters to you. I make a slideshow. I release a few more pictures unseen to the world. I eat cupcakes, LOTS of cupcakes. And I imagine that you are near. Please, say that you are near.
And when the hours have passed, when I have processed this trauma and the morning has turned to afternoon, then I am able to celebrate you. I am able to share you and our time and your love with others. Then I can be part of this world again.
So until then, I edit your pictures, I write love letters to you and I wait for your signs...
I am waiting...
I love you, Ruthie Lou.
I am forever blessed you chose us.
I miss you everyday.
I celebrate you always.
Happy third birthday, sweet girl.
I have never felt such joy as to watch my son grow. I felt this same joy the moment my daughter was born but it was coupled with such fear, worry and anxiety that it was never allowed to just "be". But now, with Reid, it just "is". He just "is". He is wonderful, curious, contagious, joyful, energetic, mischievous, entertaining, loving, funny, playful, innocent and amazing. He is everything I wanted. He is my everything.
I have never felt such joy coupled with such longing grief. I hate that it can't be pure joy for life but that the grief is forever present. I wanted all these things for Ruthie Lou, too. I wanted her. In whatever capacity that meant, healthy, sick, able, disabled, special, special needs, I didn't care. We didn't care. We prayed for something she could live with, anything, we didn't even know what we were asking for but just something that would allow us to bring her home. We have watched, over the years and admired my brothers parenting and relationship grow with his son, my nephew. We LOVE my nephew. We prayed that we could have that, too. Language, no language, walking, wheelchair, fertile, infertile. We made plans to adopt our next child when there was a moments thought that the worst case scenario was RL's reproductive organs were incapable of reproducing. We were going to show her that your child is your child is your child, it doesn't matter if you birth them or not, you always LOVE your child. We wanted her. We will always want her. She is our child. She is perfect. Period.
I have never felt such joy. I have also never suffered so much pain. I wish I could say the pain has lessened or time made softer, but it hasn't. I have learned to live with the loss of my greatest love while mothering her brother, my greatest love. My heart has never been so full yet so empty.
October 22-October 28, 2013
Day 22, Words-There are no words. There are too many words. Everything reminds me of her. Nothing reminds me of her.
Day 23, Tattoos/Jewelry-Chris and I both have (several) tattoos in honor of Ruthie Lou, we always want her close to us in the way that being forever inked allows. I also wear at least one piece of jewelry each day that is special just for her. These bracelets however, are so special to my heart. Just simple pieces of rubber, these bracelets were distributed during the time of Ruthie Lou's life and passing when her name was spoke of often, when people's lives were touched and directly impacted because she was born and the fragility of life was so close to home for other families, too. These bracelets were worn by friends, family and even strangers all over the county. They were the doing of the most wonderful woman, who will always hold a special place in our heart. (Thank you endlessly, Michelle) These bracelets still float around and some people still where theirs (or keep it near) and to see my daughter's name on a friend's arm or attached to their key chain means more than I can even express. I love seeing Ruthie Lou's name ANYWHERE. These bracelets are so special.
Day 24, Artwork-While at George Mark, they fostered a tremendous amount of memory making and most of that was through art. It is so wonderful to recall those moments with Ruthie Lou and her dad, the laughter and tears that were present in those memories. Today, we are continually invited to events that allow for creative outlets and ways in which to honor our sweet girl and our family. Shortly after she passed away, we were invited to take part in a tile making day where an artist came and facilitated the creating of a tile that now hangs on the wall at George Mark. It was really healing to sit with Chris to design what we wanted it to look like, symbols we wanted to represent and then draw and paint a piece in honor of Ruthie Lou. Now, that tile hangs with other special children who have shared in the magic at GMCH, it feels so good to have that spot that is just hers, it one of our favorite places to visit.
Ruthie Lou has ignited a passion for creating and art in all forms. It has allowed me to process so much of my grief in ways that words cannot convey. I don't pretend to be amazing but the release that art provides is motivation enough to continue with each new project. Just another gift from Ruthie Lou...
Day 26, #SayItOutLoud-If I could say one thing about my journey with grief is that given the choice, I would do it again. Despite my broken heart, I would do every part of Ruthie Lou again. I would want HER again. If given the choice of Ruthie Lou or a baby I could have kept, I would choose Ruthie Lou because I love her. She is my daughter and I am so proud of her. Of course I would want her to be here more than anything but since that would never be possible, I would still choose her, I always want HER..
Undeniably my story is sad but I am more than just a sad story, I am a survivor and my daughter is my greatest strength. In my heart she is my biggest cheerleader and when confronted with a challenge in life I always tell myself, "if Ruthie Lou could defy all odds to stay as long as she did, I can ____". She gives me the courage to be me, she is the reason to live my best life, she has shown me the definition of pure love and because of her, I can give to her brother what I didn't know before she was born. She has made me a better mama, I can now give Reid the best of me.
So if I could say one thing about this journey besides it being long, tiring, overwhelming and so devastating, is it is still so full of love. I love my daughter more than this world and if given the choice yet knowing the outcome, I would choose her again and again.
You are worth every single tear my sweet girl. I love you Ruthie Lou, with all of my being.
Day 26, Community-I feel most normal in the online "baby loss" community. Before Still Standing magazine was established in May 2012, I would be attached to Google searching for blogs that understood me. Instead of finding comfort and hope, many times I would be angered, feel more isolated or suffer PTSD having to relive the moments surrounding Ruthie Lou's transition from this world. Still Standing offers acceptance, understanding, empathy and most importantly hope and I am honored to have had an article published with them.
No more searching for blogs, my community now gathers in one place.
Day 27, Signs-I look for my sweet girl everywhere. Everything reminds me of her, nothing reminds me of her.
While in my belly, the ladybug told me Ruthie Lou was ok, that she was healthy and safe. I never knew how much that sign would eventually mean to me. It started with my 5th graders on an overnight field trip where a tremendous amount of ladybugs were discovered in their cabin. I told them how they were a symbol of good luck to the farmers that they helped rid pests from their garden and how lucky the were to be receiving this sign. When I returned to my cabin that eve and listened to Ruthie Lou's heartbeat on the Doppler, I saw them inexplicably in my room, too. It was magical, another sign, she was safe in my belly. She was always safe in my belly. I wish I could have kept her safe forever.
The first night home from George Mark a green ladybug greeted me inside my house and for many months, I only saw green ones. I know the green ones are not the same as the "lady beetle" but as the world was receiving visitors from red ladybugs I like to believe that the green ones are special signs just for mama.
Now, I look for the signs that my girl is safe and that there is life after this world. I feel beauty in these signs it helps me believe in the magic of our universe. It may sound crazy to you but if it helps heal my heart and find acceptance in this terrible mystery, than I will keeping searching them out for the rest of my life. I hope to see my sweet girl again. Until then, we only have this..
Day 28, Special Place-The moment that dusk takes over and the sun sets low, as the pink sky welcomes the night, she waits for me there. I can relive every sunset we shared, 11 total. Rocking in that oak chair, the songs I sung her, the stories I shared with her, the lessons we learned from each other, all blessed with sacred tears. Sunset is still our time. She's always waiting there for me, no matter where in the world I may be.
October 1-October 7, 2013
Day 1, Sunrise-Just outside my classroom door, the sun greets the day. Even in the most unlikely of places, beauty appears & a wish that never changes-please be with me today.
Day 2, Identity-Ruthie Lou Lands, you sit amongst this shelf and many others in our home, rightfully next to your brother. You will always be our daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and cousin, we are so proud of you. You are a teacher, a messenger, a water bug, a prankster, the light of our life but most of all you are absolutely perfect and you are so, so desperately missed.
Day 3, Myth- The grief will end.
If grief is the response to loss and the loss never goes away then in return, the grief is never ending. It does not go away. It does not end. EVER.
But it does change. And continue to change. Thank goodness for the change.
I don't think I could have been convinced of that early on, it was so hard to believe and quite frankly, I didn't want the grief to change. In some odd way, that sadness and raw emotion helped me to feel closer to Ruthie Lou and I was worried that if the intense emotions subsided, she would really be gone. But, she was already gone, I knew that.
I have learned that the grief never ends and can sneak up at any moment in the most unexpected times and that is ok. It's ok that I am present in my life again. It's ok that I will never be the same again. It's ok not to question why or when I am feeling lost, but just to feel it, it's healthy and it will pass. Sometimes I check out for a while from friends or family, but those who love me will understand, sometimes I just need some RL time.
Grief never ends because my love for my daughter will never end. I will always grieve the loss of my perfect sweet girl, Ruthie Lou, the child I don't get to raise.
Day 4, Legacy-"REMEMBER RUTHIE"
Remember that life is about perspective.
Remember that it's the little things in life that matter, and don't sweat the small stuff.
Remember that life is bigger than what we see.
Remember that we're all part of this life experience and we all have our own journey.
Remember Ruthie means keeping her alive. Keeping her memory alive, keeps her alive.
Remember joy, remember laughter, remember to love the people you're with, remember to love ME.
Remember to be present every day and to learn from every lesson presented in life.
Remember to be the best person I can be.
And lastly, remember that its when things are not perfect, that that's when I really learn
She left me with this, "The Hummingbird Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation." She left me with a new understanding, love and appreciation of life.
Day 5, Memory- Every memory I have with you here, is my favorite memory. But, the best moment everyday was waking up next to you in bed, hearing the purr of your breath and watching you fight waking up. You were definitely a night owl and NOT a morning person, just like your mama! I love the cranky look on your face and am so glad I captured this moment to watch over and over again...
Day 6, Ritual-When we wake in the morning, Reid and I walk to his window to look out his room. It's the best view of the backyard and perfect to watch the sun rise. In the window sits Ruthie Lou's rock from George Mark, another one specially painted from a student before she was born (of course it was a ladybug before we even knew her), her special flower and beads given to me honoring both Ruthie Lou and Reid while he was in my belly.
We stand at that window, Reid in my arms and say aloud, "good morning world, good morning sister". It's important for me to say hello each morning, to start the day positively, to have a moment set aside for Ruthie Lou. This simple act connects me to both my children at the start of the morning, reminds me to slow down and welcome a fresh new day.
It devastates me that he has a sister that he'll never know in this life. Sometimes I don't know who I'm more sad for; him or me. I want him to know her, love her and to never question how much we love both of them. equally but of course in their own uniqueness.
Day 7, "You Today"- My entire perspective on life has changed in the last two years., my belief system altered. I am a different person than I was before Ruthie Lou, that goes without saying. I will never be the person I was before I gave birth to her and don't want to be that person again. My life is so incredibly richer now because of the things she has shown me, my joy greater, my sorrow deeper.
Two years out, I feel like I should be doing more to honor Ruthie Lou. BIGGER things. It's a struggle I battle with often. I realize I talk about her all over FB and in my everyday life but I still feel like there is something larger for her but what that is...I'm still not certain. At first, I felt a big pressure to do something NOW because I wanted the world to know her but today I am following my heart to see where it leads me. I have a lifetime to honor her and I want it to be "right".
I will always be the mama to a child that I didn't get to raise, that will never change but TODAY, today I am also the mama to a beautifully curious toddler and that is such a tremendous gift. I mother differently because of Ruthie Lou, she taught me to stay present, to live in the moment and I am so grateful for the perspective she gave me. I slow down for Reid, I look to see life through his eyes. I will always live in honor of Ruthie Lou but TODAY I now also live this life for Reid.
I am a mama of three beautiful babes; two boys I have the honor of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.