Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on mother's day

I've been a bit silent around here lately.  It wasn't intentional, it just kind of happened.  I found that sometimes through this process I'm just fine.  And I can talk, and write, and talk, and write, with no problem.  The words just dive right out.  But sometimes I feel like I regress back into how I was feeling last year.

Choked up, both literally and figuratively.

And even though I want to keep my commitment of writing every week...I just can't sometimes.  It's overwhelming.

I had a feeling this would happen.

Reece's Day was April 30th.  It was preceeded by a March of Dimes walk for babies in honor of Reece the weekend before and the weekend after.

Somewhere amidst those weekends it was also Mother's Day.

Sometimes it feels cruel to me that Reece's Day has to be so very close to Mother's Day.  A day that honors motherhood so very close to the anniversary of when I had to say hello and goodbye in the span of six minutes to my second child.  It feels wrong to celebrate the act of mothering when I didn't get to mother him in the way I had hoped and planned, just days after coming off of his anniversary.

And some may say, "At least you have Sadira.  You're still a mom."

To that I say, "But I'm Reece's mom.  I'm still a mom because of him also."

I remember everything about Mother's Day last year.  From waking up and facing the numb realization that it was indeed Mother's Day and that my son was no longer with me, to choking down lunch and making small talk with my family in an attempt to "be normal."  I remember holding onto Sadira as much as possible that day, not because Reece's death somehow made me more grateful for her--I've ALWAYS been grateful for her--but because I knew she was grieving too, and her little heart was still trying to understand why she wouldn't get to see her baby brother grow up.  As her mother too, I wanted to take that pain away.

I remember late in the evening I was aimlessly surfing the internet, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, when a picture of a smiling, happy, beautiful, blond woman showed up as one of my "People You May Know."

I DID know her.  She was an old friend from college, and her name was Marisa.  One of those people who was just as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside. In the picture she was smiling brightly, standing sideways with a pregnant belly. She held a sign that said, "20 weeks, halfway there!"

I clicked on her page. Saw her beautiful pregnancy pics, and realized that we were probably due right around the same time.  She was due mid September, I was due September 1st.

Except I wasn't "due" anymore.  Reece had died the week before at 22 weeks.

I didn't feel jealousy.  I never felt jealousy seeing pregnant women, and I still don't.  I just feel sadness. Deep, pure sadness.  I don't want their baby, I want my own back.

I remember in that moment, scrolling through the few photos of beautiful, pregnant Marisa that I could see, and saying a purposeful prayer.  I remember asking God to keep her and her baby safe and healthy.  I remember praying and begging God that He let everything go right for Marisa and her baby girl.

I still do this today.  When I see my pregnant friends I don't feel jealousy. I worry for them. I don't want them to go through what I went through.  I want their babies to be born healthy and happy.  And I don't want the bear of babyloss grief to ever be something that they experience.

I wanted to friend request Marisa, but I didn't.  Not because I didn't want to be friends on social media, but because I didn't want to be a babyloss mom in her life at that particular moment, when she should be happy and worry free.  I didn't want my fresh grief to be the first thing she saw of me, after not seeing her for ten years, and especially now that she was expecting.

And that was that.

Months later, in October, I was visiting my friend Laura in New Jersey for the Walk to End Alzheimer's.  She was another college friend, also whom I hadn't seen in years, also a friend of Marisa's.  Laura was no stranger to grief and loss, and during a stroll through the park in her neighborhood we got to talking about loss, and grief, and more specifically babyloss. She happened to mention that I was one of several friends of hers who had lost children that year.

"Really?" I said to her.  I was finding that I felt the same way, but I thought that maybe it was just because more people openly talked about it to me.

"Yes," she said.  "There was you, another friend of mine, and then most recently Marisa."

I had to stop in my tracks.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

I remembered that baby! I prayed for that baby!  I was invested in that baby, even if only from a distance!

How could she be gone, too?

I didn't even make it back to Maryland before messaging Marisa.  I wrote to her that same night, from the room I was sleeping in at Laura's house.  Soon after I heard back from her, and my heart just broke all over again.

Marisa's beautiful daughter, Charlotte Madison, was born full term, ten days after her due date on September 20th.  Marisa said she had had an uncomplicated pregnancy and easy labor, but Charlotte had aspirated meconium during delivery.  In her words, "her heart rate was fine the entire labor and there was no meconium noticeable in my fluids so there was no indication she was in distress until when she came out.  It was a horrible flurry of activity in the delivery room, they took her from me right away but still were telling me she would be okay.  After an hour and 45 minutes of them working on her, she was gone."

Even today, I read these words that Marisa wrote and hope that they change.  I know the outcome of the story, but I still hope that if I read them one more time, the outcome would be different.  I heard the same thing when I first spoke to Kia and Debi.  We know our stories, and we know how they end, but somehow we hope that when we tell the story again, the ending will be different.

Marisa and I have formed a friendship over the past six months. She is part of the sisterhood that I've written about in the past. We've reached out to one another on particularly difficult days, and we've provided one another understanding when it feels like no one else understands. I am so so grateful for that.

In one particular exchange of messages, I was having a rough day, and we were discussing the "good" days (which are really just the "bearable" days when you're in grief) versus the bad days.  She said this, "Usually when I have one of those days though, I find the next day, or two days later, I have a really "good" day.  I mean "good" relatively of course...but there are some days where laughing doesn't feel foreign and forced..and sometimes even fleeting moments like that in the really fragile days.  I hold onto them so ferociously..that's all we can do."

This has stuck with me and helped me so much. Not only then, when I first read, but also now.  There are days where laughter doesn't feel foreign or forced.  And I DO hold onto them ferociously. Marisa is right. 

There are days where I can see my progress.  Where I think about where I was last year and how far I've come to get to today.  And I realize that probably down the line, on Mother's Days years from now, I will be happy that Reece's Day is so close to Mother's Day.  I will be happy to have the connection between remembering him and celebrating motherhood.  I will appreciate that they are in the same season.

But I'm not there yet.

There used to be days where I didn't think I could make it through the week.  Where just surviving through the day felt like an unthinkable task. The responsibilities of getting up, getting Sadie to school, going to work...all of that felt unbearable.  But now I do it again.  And it's not so difficult.

There used to be Wednesdays where I would stare at the clock in the morning.  Waiting for the hands of the clock to hit 7:30am when Reece was born, and then holding my breath as they ticked forward to 7:36am when he died.  I would end up in a pile of tears every Wednesday morning and struggle to get through the day, buoyed forward only by the love of friends and family who would wear #anchorsforReece and post their pics, or send me sweet texts, reminding me that even though he's not here, they didn't forget him.  They're not afraid to say his name.

Wednesdays used to be my least favorite day of the week...the day I dreaded because my grief would stare me right in the face, every Wenesday morning as I looked at my reflection in the mirror.

Some Wednesdays (like the most recent few) are still very hard, but there are plenty of other Wednesdays that are not.  I remember Reece, I wear my anchors, but I am content.  As Marisa said, there are Wednesdays "where laughing doesn't feel foreign and forced."  I celebrate him.

I imagine that sometime in the future, Mother's Days will feel like that again. They will once again be happy days and not painful ones.

But I am not there yet.

Mother's Day will ALWAYS remind me of Marisa and Charlotte, though.  It was the day I first day a picture of them, together.  The day I first saw Marisa's picture after so many years had gone by, and the day that I prayed for Charlotte.  And ironically, my own mother's name is Marisa, so Marisas are on my mind on a day where moms are celebrated.

But also on Mother's Day, I think about the people who have said "at least" to me. What would these people say to Marisa, who's first experience of motherhood was that of losing Baby Charlotte?

I'll tell you what I'd say to them, I'd say, "She is Charlotte's mom. She is still a mom because of her." 

I have been a single mom, I have been a mom in a relationship, I have been a stay at home mom, I have been a working mom, but the single most difficult role in motherhood that I've ever experienced is that of bereaved mom.

When you have a baby, and you are a mother for the first time, you look forward to your first Mother's Day.  It's the first day where you "count!"  It's a new holiday that you get to be included as part of, instead of only celebrating.

What, then, of the first time moms who are bereaved?  How are they celebrated?

I will tell you.  You celebrate them the same way.  You wish them a happy Mother's Day.  You say their child's name.  You send a card.  They are walking the cruelest of paths in motherhood, so please do not shy away from acknowledging them as a mother.

Marisa, and Kia, and Ashley, and all of the other moms who experienced their first Mother's Day as a bereaved mother, I applaud you, I love you, and I celebrate you.  And I know that one day in the future, as we continue to work through this together, we will truly celebrate the Mother's Days ahead.  Not only with a brave face and an obligatory smile, but also with laughter that is not forced.