Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kids the Age She'd Be

This post has been in my heart (and sitting in my drafts) for a long time. I saw something today that prompted me to finish it.

Grief over the loss of a baby is multifaceted. When my doctor spoke those words to me on March 16th, 2010, that Lily's tiny, perfect heart was no longer beating, I didn't know all the layers to this profound loss that would be unveiled through the years without her.

A friend posted about how her daughter turns 6 today, with a photo of what a big girl she is now. This is a friend of my family that we've known for many years. We were connected during our pregnancies, due less than two months apart. I sent her a baby gift and a card, saying how I was excited for our little girls to meet in person one day soon... Two months later, they sent me a sympathy card and a Willow Tree.

I know many people whose children were born around the time Lily was, a few even born on the exact same date! Friends from high-school, friends I met taking classes at the pregnancy center, acquaintances, friends of friends, family of friends... you get the picture.

Lily has three cousins that were born within just a few months of her. My cousin Daniel's son, Owen, was born three months before Lily. She also has two other cousins who I don't write about, a little boy who was born five months before Lily and a little girl who was born half a year after. They are Lily's father's niece and nephew. I never see or talk to them, so I don't know anything about their lives. But I have seen photos. I still know that they are out there and that they are Lily's cousins. There is a little girl who is now taking the place of Lily as the oldest granddaughter and niece growing up in that family. A little girl who will miss out on having a girl cousin close in age to share life with. It absolutely breaks my heart to think of this little girl, who Lily will never know and I will never know because Lily isn't here.

It breaks my heart even more wondering if the other half of Lily's family cares for or thinks about her at all. Is she out of sight, out of mind, almost as if she never existed? I can't stand the thought of them not ever mentioning her, not remembering her on her birthday each year, not visiting her grave every now and then, and not missing and loving her. Will they think of Lily as her girl cousin grows up through the years and wonder how Lily would have looked and who she would've become? Will they count her as part of the family? I hope they will remember her and learn to love her in the only ways they can.

My child is the only one who didn't make it. All these children are healthy and thriving. Lily will never grow beyond 21 inches, 7 pounds and 9 ounces. She will never speak a word, never even take a breath.

The only reason I know others who have babies who died is because I purposefully searched out people to connect with, both locally and online. Nobody I know in "real life" lost their baby like me. Don't get me wrong, I am glad they didn't. It just makes me feel alone.

What people don't seem to comprehend is my pain was not left behind in 2010. Year after year, I see these children who were in the womb at the same time Lily was. Whether I want to be reminded or not, their full lives remind me my daughter is in the ground.

Each time I see, hear about, or think of these children born around the time Lily was, it is a reminder of the little girl that was lost, the life she will never live. With each post of their child's birthday, how their child is learning to read, or how emotional it is that their child is growing up too fast, such as when they registered them for Kindergarten, it is a blow to the tender place in my heart that will always grieve for my little girl who will never experience a single one of those things so often taken for granted.

And not only that, but literally EVERY SINGLE YEAR since Lily's birth in 2010, I have known friends and/or acquaintances who were due on or right around Lily's due date and birthdate. Every single year. So even apart from the children who were actually born near the time Lily was that I associate with her, it is yet another fresh blow when children are born in mid-March each year. I know it sounds weird to someone who hasn't experienced it, but her name and birthday are some of the only things that are hers in this world! They are sacred to me. The birthday celebration we have for her is most certainly not typical, making it painful to see others celebrating her bittersweet day with only happiness. It is also hard to see the pregnancy milestones others are experiencing lining up with my memories. I imagine the pain would ease a lot if I were able to have another baby, but I'm not.

I love how John Piper describes the loss of a baby in a letter to the mother of a son who was stillborn (it is one of the most comforting and validating things I've ever read and my mind constantly goes back to it):

"Amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.... there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God's gift - and God in His gift - so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel Him never letting go of us - in that longer sorrow He is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to Him not away from Him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing Him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient."

2010 was the severing. And now, six years later... I am still hurting. I am still writing. Because the countless might-have-beens go on. The pain of the gone-ness is relentless. I share because I love her. I share because she still matters and I still miss her. I share because I am a mother. I share because I treasure the gift of her life, and God in His gift of her. I share because He has never let go of me and my writing is me not letting go of Him.

My little girl is just as loved and real as these children, yet the reality of her presence isn't here. I feel invisible in my motherhood, much like Lily is invisible to this world. I ache for what might have been on this Earth had she lived. It is a loss that runs so deep it could never be described, only felt. I don't even know if I'm making sense much of the time, trying to express what I feel.

My friend Stacy wrote me something encouraging last year when I shared with her how hard it was that Lily wouldn't be starting Kindergarten and seeing posts of people whose babies were born the same month (and day) as Lily that would be.

These are the comforting words she sent me: "Lily has the BEST Kindergarten teacher ever!! She goes to the BEST school... She is safe... She is healthy and whole... She doesn't even need immunizations!! I know this doesn't remove any of the pain. I know it doesn't make you want her here any less... I know that it hurts like crazy to hear others complain about things you long to experience with your girl... but one sweet day Hannah, you will be reunited with her FOREVER. Your separation is temporary. Your mothering Lily is different than theirs, but it is no less important or real... Anyway, I'm not trying to say it shouldn't matter, because it does and I totally understand... just want to encourage you that while this life hurts, it isn't even a drop in the bucket of time that you have to look forward to spending with Lily... in a place where it's not scary to let her run free without your protection. I can just picture how beautiful she looks right now running through fields of flowers and skipping on streets of gold. She wouldn't enjoy Kindergarten near as much."

If you want to know how to encourage someone who is grieving, use that as an example. Validating and encouraging at the same time. Please don't be afraid to say Lily's name. Please tell me you think of her and remember her. Please tell me you're sorry Lily isn't here for whatever milestone she'd be experiencing. You can never know what it does for my heart to have others love her too.


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