Grief Club

May 30, 2011

I've been reading a book lately that was recommended to me by several friends. "You'll love it!" one says. "It's hilarious!" raves another. "It's a quick and light read!" is another recommendation. And I can see how people would love it, and I can see how people find it hilarious, and I can even see how "quick" and "light" the book could seem to other people. Yet I am only half-way through this book, and it is none of those things to me.


This book has talked several different times about women losing children. One, a six year-old, drowns in a river. Another is a perfect 8.5-month stillborn. Two others are lost during pregnancy, one at 4.5 months, another at 6 months. These stories are important to the plot and provide depth and emotion to the book, but it completely cripples me to read about them.

Sometimes I hate that most women can gloss over these stories with a quick, albeit heartfelt, "oh how sad," and then go on reading. I hate that these stories don't cause their stomachs to knot up and for tears to start pouring down their faces, with emotions flooding back that causes them to relive, for the millionth time, the pain of losing their child. I hate that they don't understand my reality, and that my most loving and well-meaning friends don't even realize that by emphatically endorsing this book, they inadvertently recommended that I read something that causes me enormous pain.

I understand that it's virtually impossible for another person to know what it feels like. Even I have a hard time understanding why my loss is so excruciatingly difficult. I had suffered two early miscarriages that, while sad, didn't emotionally (and almost physically) cripple me like the third one. But after having two live births (both boys) and the two miscarriages, I was unexpectedly pregnant again, and I knew in my soul that I was expecting a little girl. I dreamed about her almost every night. My mind was constantly occupied with what it would be like: what kind of relationship would we have? What would her dreams and ambitions be? Would I be able to raise a strong woman? What would it be like for her to go on and have children of her own? I felt a heavy responsibility, coupled with an enormous privilege. I felt more purpose in this pregnancy than I ever had before.

And then, at sixteen weeks pregnant and without warning, my water broke during the night. I woke up immediately, ran into the bathroom to wrap my head around what, exactly, was going on, and promptly delivered a tiny, curled up baby girl into the palm of my own hand.

I literally felt my heart break. And my world abruptly fell apart.

For a long time, I felt like I didn't belong in a particular Grief Club. I hadn't lost a 2 year-old like Molly. I hadn't had a full-term stillborn like my aunt. By all medical accounts, this was classified as a "miscarriage," a term I felt was cruelly inadequate to describe the birth of my little girl. And yet I didn't feel like I belonged to the miscarriage grief club, either. I was wholly alone, unable to meter the "appropriate" amount of grief I should have for my loss. I mean, I was "only" sixteen weeks pregnant, right? So shouldn't I "only" have sixteen weeks worth of grief? I shouldn't mourn this loss for over a year, right? My heart shouldn't hurt every time I hear of a friend expecting a baby girl, or of a friend thinking of baby girl names, or when I read about a mother delicately tucking her partially-developed-yet-still-breathtakingly-perfect stillborn baby into the crook of her arm and weeping?
Here's the thing I have come to realize: I don't have to be in anybody's club. Even if I lost my child under the exact same circumstances as another person, my loss - and pain - is unique and different. I might find more things to commiserate over with a person who has suffered a similar fate, but ultimately, it's not the same. It's a pain that is unique to me, and unique to my loss. And, little by little, I am realizing that I'm allowed to grieve as much as I need to grieve, regardless of when others might perceive it as overreacting or inconvenient. Though nobody has been insensitive enough to actually say it to my face, I often ask myself, "shouldn't you have moved on by now?" And the answer is... no. I don't need to "move on" according to anybody else's timetable, or even the one I arbitrarily made up in my head because it makes sense on paper. I don't need to grieve like anybody else. And while this loneliness sometimes hurts, because even the dearest of friends may not realize that their well-meaning book endorsement can open the floodgates of grief, it helps to know that I don't have to fit anybody else's timetable, and that I can do this my way, taking as much time as I need. 

Recognizing this also helps me to know that others are going to grieve differently, and that we shouldn't compare ourselves and our process to one another; that's not the point!  Instead, we should offer support, understanding, and ultimately love, not judgment or unsolicited opinions.  And in doing so, we can take advantage of the amazing resources out there (like A Good Grief!) and really gain support through our seemingly lonely trial.  We may have to walk a unique path full of individual struggles and challenges, but we don't have to walk it without support and encouragement.  There is no magical recipe that suggests that if we each cry one thousand tears, our grief will be lifted (wouldn't that be lovely, though?).  Some of us might need more, and some might need less.  The important thing is that we recognize the individuality of it all, and welcome the support that others have to offer.


Comments

Kristen on 05/30/2011
Beautiful. Thank you.

Meg on 05/30/2011
I am so sorry. Your grief is deserved, worthy, real.

Jennie Meissner on 05/30/2011
Thank you.

Bridget on 05/30/2011
Wow. I cannot even imagine your pain. My heart cries out for you. Thank you for sharing.

Missy on 05/31/2011
Okay, having gone through the trauma of a very early birth experience myself, I literally almost gagged with horror at the part where you delivered your little 16-week old girl into your hand. I seriously can't imagine how absolutely awful that experience must have been for you. So please, please don't apologize for feeling such deep loss over a miscarriage. It's the loss of SO MUCH. Your dreams, and hopes, and expectations for your daughter, and to be a good mother, and to have a special relationship with THAT child. And you can't have it back, or undo it, or get a do-over. Your heart would break. And mine breaks for you.

Chrsty on 05/31/2011
I was one of those friends and I'm sorry. For the record, I thought it was a heartbreaking book, and each one of those losses made me cry. You are amazing and I love you.

Amy on 05/31/2011
This is so honest. I have never had a loss, but I imagine I would die. Just die right there, even if I were only five minutes pregnant. There is so much in a pregnancy, or even the hope of one. So much vulnerabiloty and so much hope. I don't understand why women have to lose babies (or never have them when they want to...or give them to another mother...or lose their grown children...) and, selfishly, I hope I never have to join the club. I respect you for sharing and hope I can pause and take a slower breath when women share that they have had miscarriages. We tend to gloss over them, in writing and in real life, and it feels important to stop a minute for something important, because it is. Big hugs to you and thank you.

Alicia on 05/31/2011
Absolutely beautiful!! You expressed yourself in ways that put words to emotions I have had, but couldn't express, even about grief in general. I can't even imagine your pain! I think I do myself a disservice all the time by beating myself up over "not being over it yet". I also know I gloss over people's grief because I don't know how to handle it, what to say. I can learn from your example!

Lisa on 05/31/2011
I love this post, and I think it's important that you wrote it. Comparison is such a dangerous thing. It usually makes us feel worse about ourselves or causes us to belittle others' problems. I am so sorry for your pain, and I agree--there is no right way to grieve. My parents had 2 miscarriages, but my dad says that it wasn't as big a deal for them as mine were for me. Um... so? And, are you sure? I mean, that was 30+ years ago. Your daughter was important, and I still believe that she came to you for this short time for a reason. Love you!

Emma on 05/31/2011
Wow, thank you for this beautiful post. I can't begin to understand the journey you are on but I thank you for opening people's eyes to watch what/how they say things, that "I am so sorry" sometimes is all that should/can be said. You are so right, no grief is the same, even two parents don't grieve the same loss in the same way-we are individuals and in trials I think that comes out even more! You are in my thoughts and prayers for your continued walk through grief, which I believe goes on forever, in different ways/forms all the time but is lifelong-and I hope you feel the weight lessening as time goes on. Hugs!

missy. on 06/01/2011
Ditto to what Christy said--I was another one of those friends, and I thought it was a heartbreaking book too, and I should have been more careful in telling you that yes, there would be funny parts, but also, there would be heartbreaking parts. This a wonderful article, so well-written and honest-- thank you for writing it. I wish you both peace and plenty of space and time to grieve.

Lani on 06/01/2011
Yes, take all the time you need. I love you.

Kim on 06/01/2011
Thank you so much for your post. I suffered a similar experience where I delivered a 16 week old baby at home about 9 months ago. Your words about not being able to find a "grief club" to belong to resonated with me. Having had miscarriages before, I also felt this was very different and I couldn't find anyone that really knew what I was going through. But you're right. It doesn't matter. We all grieve differently no matter what we're going through, and we need to recognize that and not compare ourselves to others. It is nice to know that there are other survivors are out there...Thanks for sharing. It was exactly what I needed to read today.

Ruth on 06/02/2011
I so appreciate reading your feelings about the loss of this precious little girl. I, in my ignorance, have just thought you were doing so amazingly well because we had never talked about it. Even though I should have been more understanding and compassionate because I have some understanding of what you must have been feeling, having lost a baby boy at 24 weeks. I too felt that I had no place to fit in. Since it was my first baby I didn't know if I was a mother. I suffered the grief of a Mother's Day from hell and watching several other women have healthy sons near the time I should have delivered my son. But I now have the perspective of nearly 35 years since that experience. Time has a way of easing the pain of the loss and I have gotten beyond the sharpness of the pain. I can now say with conviction that it was a bitter-sweet experience. I should have been more forthcoming with support and I am so sorry that I wasn't there for you in a way that might have helped you feel less alone. Just know that I ached for your loss at the time and I still do. I love you and you must know that you are an amazing wife and mother and daughter-in-law!

Heather on 06/14/2011
I know. I know what that horror feels like. I am bawling my eyes out right now for you. I delivered my little girl at 18 weeks 2 months ago. I have 2 beautiful little boys. That little girl is your precious child. She is counted in your family. She will be yours again. I know this like I know the sky is blue. I am so, so sorry you had to go through this. I know how hard it is for it to be counted as a miscarriage when you see and hold your perfectly formed tiny little baby. It's a punch in the face. I wanted to scream at people "but I just DELIVERED A TINY FULLY FORMED BABY!!" Any miscarriage is a tragedy, and I know what this is like. It has been the hardest trial in my entire life, but I see the blessings that are coming from it all around me. Oh, that line "heavy responsibility, coupled with enormous privilege" - my thoughts exactly. Yes, we all grieve differently, but we grieve none the less, no one should ever make you feel like you should move on. The loss of my daughter is not something I will ever get over. I won't be completely consumed by it as I have been, but it will forever be an open wound. There is a quote that I found recently that I love - "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love." Washington Irving I would love to talk anytime with you if want. If not, I understand, but sometimes it helps to have someone who walks the same road as you. My e-mail is heazzyh@hotmail.com

Amy on 07/16/2011
You've stated it perfectly. Thank you for your insight.

Annette Larsen on 12/09/2011
Thank you for sharing your grief. I had a complete molar pregnancy in November. I too feel like there is no club for me. After all my body produced tumors, not an actually fetus. But my body told me I was pregnant and I believed I carried a baby for 10 weeks before the devastating news. I am reminded of my loss every week when I go in for blood tests to make sure the cells that have the ability to turn cancerous are dimishing or gone. Somedays it is more emotion and anxiety then I can handle. I often try to tell myself to move on. Others have had to face harder things. What is wrong with me? Nothing. I am me. And I need to wait for time to help me heal. In the mean time, if I need to cry, I will. If I need to avoid baby showers, I will. This will always hurt, but I will heal.

Emily on 03/22/2012
I am so sorry. I have suffered through 4 miscarriages, and held a perfectly formed baby boy in the palm of my hand - fingers, toes, nose, ears...everything in place. Absolutely perfect. And I, like you, have struggled to find answers. I have listened to several people over the years try to explain how I should feel. Even if they have the best of intentions, all of those comments hurt. The worst is when I was "only" 13 weeks along or "only" 8 weeks. It makes no difference. I also understand that I did not lose a 2-year-old or a 12-year-old, so I sometimes feel that I am not "allowed" to feel grief or pain like they do. But, the fact is that staying pregnant is difficult for me. I miss those babies...those children...those people in my life. And although I function in daily life, there are moments that crop up when I feel that grief and loss and re-live those losses. I have found so much peace, but still find myself searching for answers occasionally. I wish you the best, and I'm so sorry that you are going through this..

Amidey on 04/17/2012
I can not tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your story. I miscarried about the same gestational time as you twice and twice earlier on. One was just before Molly lost her little Lucy. I remember how hard it was because I felt guilty for feeling such loss when clearly she lost so much more. (I grew up with Molly.) Like I was selfish for morning a baby I didn't even get to know, I shouldn't love. I didn't deliver at home and I never got to know if any of them were boys or girls. I have since had more children and although I don't think about it every day like I used to, the pain is still there. Every once in a while it creeps up on me. I have never found a group I really "fit" in. You just said it perfectly and it's nice to hear someone else who has given them self permission to grieve however they need. Thank you!


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