Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Delicate Parenting

Two days ago, May 1st, was International Babylost Mothers Day. At first I will admit that I didn’t understand this holiday, not one bit, when I first read about it online. I fully understand that many women who have lost a baby and have no living children often go unrecognized on Mothers Day. I also realize that many women who have a surviving child or children will be celebrated on Mothers Day but without having their lost child acknowledged, which I imagine to be painful as well. But why not just honor ALL mothers on Mothers Day, whether they’ve lost a child or not?

I have not experienced my first Mothers Day after the birth of my twins, not yet. I don’t know what to expect from it, but as every breath of my life has been thus far since my csection, I’m assuming it will be bittersweet. And right now, the bitter seems to always outweigh the sweet.

Approaching five months out from my loss is HARD. (Oh, but let’s all be honest, I said the same thing about previous months: “It must just be the whole three month thing; I’ve heard that three months out is just the WORST”, and “Oh yeah, the four month mark is JUST BRUTAL.”)

Apparently every month is brutal. Apparently life is brutal. When will I stop counting the months and pondering what makes that particular month so agonizing without my son? After it turns into a year? Two years? Two decades? I have my daughter as a living breathing marker of how old he'd be. Will the counting of days, weeks, months, years, decades be nonstop?

I don’t know if I want any of you to answer that. Let’s call that a “rhetorical question” and leave it alone.

My gut reaction to International Babylost Mothers Day was to think, “Wow, that’s sad. Sad that we have to have a SEPARATE day, because we’re DIFFERENT than other mothers. We’re the FREAKS that can’t simply be acknowledged on the EXISTING holiday with all the other mothers of solely LIVING children.”

I was offended. Plain and simple.

I think it was Angie from Still Life with Circles who called this type of parenting “delicate”. And that adjective is the most accurate one to describe the experience of parenting a child who has died, and that adjective solidified in my mind the need for a separate day acknowledging the babylost.

Reflecting on the parenting of a child who no longer lives brought me back to the days during my maternity leave in which I was stuck in such a state of utter SHOCK. I had two new roles that in my mind I would never fill. I would never be a bereaved parent, right? Who ever dreams of that?! But the funny thing is, that even the things I DID dream, I thought I’d never be.
After my miscarriage I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that I would likely never have anything turn out well for me. (Is that bad?) Defense mechanism, which I mentioned before, I believe. So when I found out I was pregnant with twins, I distanced myself from the pregnancy a great deal (I hate this fact but must be honest), because I was too afraid to get really attached. (Turns out, I got attached anyway.)

It wasn’t that I necessarily expected my babies to DIE; I would have been FREAKING out if I truly expected such an outcome. Rather, I was kind of in denial mentally about everything. I took my prenatals, I prayed for the health and safety of my twins, I ate as well as I could, I did the bedrest, but I always tried to distract myself and didn’t think of the reality of being MOM. I never really thought about after the babies would be BORN and brought home.
I can’t relate to the women who say they had all these dreams of their twins dressing up like Thing One and Thing Two for Halloween, and how it’s all ruined. I just never went there, mentally. I wanted them with every fiber of my being, don’t get me wrong - I just didn’t want to Go There.
All I knew was that I loved them so incredibly much, and that was as much as I could handle for the time being. I couldn’t dream past the point of bringing two living healthy babies home from the hospital. That in and of itself was just an incredible dream that I think it filled my head and heart sufficiently at that time. I haven’t yet decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it just is My Truth. And no, I’m not saying this was prophetic in any way shape or form.

So. I can say I was almost as shocked to mother a living child as I was to mother a child who had died before birth. Both of those things were just so foreign to me, so unfathomable, so hugely life-altering. Becoming a mother was something I had dreamed of since my early childhood, and it was finally coming true, in the most wonderful and most horrible way, all at the same time.

Even today, my daughter is almost five months old, and while I have many days where I think, “I should be feeding TWINS right now”, or “I should be bathing TWO babies right now”, or “I should be trying to decide WHICH screaming baby to comfort right now”, there are just as many days where I think, “What? I have a DAUGHTER? I’m a MOM?! When did THAT happen?!” It feels like my life is flying by now that she is here, yet my pregnancy felt like the gestational period of an African elephant (about two years).

A coworker came to visit me during my maternity leave, and I was still trying to sort out all these sudden changes that had occurred in my life. And I said something like, “People don’t get it. I can’t just delight in Evelyn. I also have to parent Elias. He still needs me.” It was a moment of total vulnerability and honesty and a classic instance of just plain simple oversharing. I was desperate for someone to WANT to listen to me when so many others clearly wanted to avoid the topic of my loss altogether. My coworker seemed concerned, so I spilled. And immediately she became MORE concerned, as if she thought my statement indicated I was PRETENDING my son was still ALIVE. As if I had a baby doll that I called Elias that I changed, fed, bathed, and put to bed.
I could tell by the look on her face that she had no idea what I meant. The look on her face said without saying a word, “Wait, did she just say PARENTING? A child who has DIED? How do you do THAT? She’s not only lost her baby; she's lost her marbles!!! I’m going to have to drive her to the loony bin, stat!”

She just had no idea. Thank God she had no idea. The cost for understanding this type of pain and delicate parenting is the highest price in the world, the price of losing your child.

I said, “I still parent him, but it’s a different kind of parenting, obviously…” She sighed and looked a smidge relieved, yet still thoroughly confused. I went on, “I parent him in the way I make sure that his memory lives on. I parent him in the way I try to help other women through their losses. And I parent him in the way I try to live my life to make him proud, to honor him. I parent him by loving him unconditionally.” Her body seemed to relax a little, so I continued, “A parent’s love truly is unconditional, and it isn’t dependent upon the child being alive. That love you feel is in your heart forever and yearns for expression.”

I felt such a need to justify my love for my son, to explain this psychologically and emotionally as clearly as I could, as this woman like so many other well-intentioned friends and family members made me feel like I needed to just move on and focus on my surviving twin. Which, if you've lost a child, you realize is impossible.

I still don’t know if she “got it”. But at least I tried to explain instead of hiding like I so often do from “outsiders”.

When I read that term, “delicate parenting”, I said YES. That is exactly what this is. It isn’t as deliberate as selecting the perfect bed time story to lull your baby to sleep for the night, or having to rush over to your coughing baby to make sure they aren’t choking, or massaging the lotion onto their chubby cheeks so they won’t get flaky skin on their blushing face.

It’s a quieter type of parenting. A softer, more subtle variety. Yet so true, so genuine, so necessary. A type of parenting that is needed just as fiercely as that needed by a living child, yet most people won’t understand that need unless they have lost a child. That love doesn’t just go away. We must honor it by “parenting” our babies, whether they are here with us physically or not.

Upon much reflection, I deemed this separate holiday appropriate, even necessary. The type of parenting women do after losing a child goes unrecognized and when acknowledged is often misunderstood as “dwelling on things”, “being negative”, “fixating on their dead baby”, “taking the good in their life for granted”, and “throwing a pity party”. How painful these misunderstandings are for women who want their babies and their motherhood recognized.

This delicate parenting simply deserves its own day.

This day to me was also a chance for me to reflect on the wonderful women I have met so far along my grief journey. I’m only about five months out; I can’t imagine in a few years what amazing people I will get to know. I can't say it's "nice" to meet others who have suffered baby or child loss, because I wish no one ever had to feel such heartache. But I do think it's important to share our stories with one another and just be there for each other.

It is difficult to be exposed to countless loss stories, because you kind of carry the grief of everyone you’ve met in your journey. But when you help each other carry something so heavy, the burden somehow does seem to lighten.

And now, a poem written by the lovely Angie M. Yingst in honor of International Babylost Mothers Day, a holiday I'm so grateful to Carly Marie for creating:

Though I lose my petals
I am still a flower.
We grow together,
in a garden bed
of ash and tears,
heartbreak and love.
Whispered support blows
towards our delicate beauty,
crying nourishes our shared roots,
and the warmth of our compassion
heals the winter of our grief.
Though we have lost a petal,
we are still flowers,
lush and full together
in a garden of hope.


  1. You are right, every month is brutal. I turned a corner a few times where I started noticing I had less hard, cruel days. I don't even remember when that was, but one day I realized it. That is probably not helpful to hear. Beautiful post that I totally get. Thanks for sharing my poem. I do feel grateful for the friends I made here. I might have survived without them, but I would not have thrived. Much love to you.

  2. Lindsay, thank you for putting a different perspective on International Babylost Mother's Day as well as what you call "delicate parenting." I too felt sort of offended about the day as if I wasn't really a mother so I have to be separated and recognized differently than those mother's who actually have living babies. I'm still not sure how I feel about you made me understand the purpose of the day more. I also appreciate how well you articulated our experience of parenting our child that is not here. Thank you for putting into words what I had a hard time formulating even in my mind. Also, just wanted to let you know that I too never thought past my baby being born. I didn't daydream about what life would be like with him here, I too was just so happy to be pregnant and looked forward to hold him in my arms and that was about as far as I went.

  3. Thank you for the comment on my blog! I am sorry you have joined us here in dead baby land, and as a 'celebrant' of our own special holiday. To me, it is a day to catch my breath before Mother's Day.

    I looked at your blog list, and there is one blog that you might find helpful. Catherine lost one twin too. The only caveat is that she just had another baby:

    The first two years were so hard for me, I don't know that I could have cared for a baby at all. Just cry when you need to, luckily they don't have memories at this age!

  4. Ya Chun - Thanks so much; Catherine and I are friends on FB. : ) I think she follows my blog, and I recently figured out how to follow hers (I am so new to the whole blog thing and get easily confused about all the different ways you can subscribe to a blog, and to be honest with you, I am still confused about whether or not I can access all the updates from one place or not! I feel like I follow so many more than show up on my dashboard...) Thanks so much for stopping by. xo