three years

Yesterday marked three years since I went into early labor and lost my baby girl. I struggled with how to mark the day, mostly because instead of a day of acute sadness, it felt like any other day. Maybe because it was a Sunday, and not a Wednesday. Maybe because it was 65 degrees out at a time of year that usually means subzero temperatures around here. Maybe because I am so utterly immersed in the life I thought I had lost, that all of the grief I felt on that day in 2012 is no longer there. My grief over the loss of motherhood, and all of its details, no longer applies. I have that life.

But I don’t ever get to know who my other little girl might have been. I won’t ever have the memories of her soft baby skin, her little wiggling toes, her first steps, her favorite foods. I won’t ever stop wondering who that little person might have been.

A big part of my guilt yesterday was about how things “look”. How would it look if a mother did not go to her child’s grave on that day and weep? How would it look if I did not decorate the site for Christmas? Etc. But when I think of that baby’s spirit, I feel strongly that the best way I could honor its fleeting presence in my life was to do just what I did: enjoy every second of the day as a mother.

My sister and I took our kids to meet Santa, they decorated Christmas ornaments with enormous piles of glitter glue, and we all snuggled on the couch to watch Polar Express. I delighted in every tradition, every hilarious moment, every time M clapped her hands in excitement during the movie. I savored the minutes that I peeled her sleepy body out of the car and carried her to bed. I relished in everything motherhood, but I did not stand over a grave.

There is, after all, only comfort there for me, when I need to seek it. My other daughter left me years ago, when M came into my life forever. She left me as she found me: a mother eager to love her daughter.


the saddest time of the year

The first weeks of December are marked with sorrow for me. Three years ago I spent December 1st through 7th in a state of joy, feeling my baby kick and listening to her on my home doppler. I had all my Christmas shopping done, the little tree up, and I was feeling especially happy that by next Christmas we would be celebrating baby’s first. I posed in photos with vegetables next to my baby bump and filled out my pregnancy journal with misty eyes. The nausea and fatigue of the first trimester had finally passed, and given way to a wonder and love for my own body that I’d never known before and will never know again. I felt beautiful. Not just sexy, but truly, radiantly beautiful, like Mother Earth herself. I felt powerful, like I was actually creating a miracle, and I had brought it about through my own will power.

I was walking on the thinnest, most fragile membrane without even knowing that I was about to crash through it into the dark underbelly of grief. I was blissfully unaware that in a moment’s time, everything you believe and want and dream of can be gone, replaced with death. I know this is a reality for so much of the world, but my existence had been privileged enough that I did not even consider the possibility.

So in these weeks leading up to December 13, 2012, the day my baby died, I look at my living child, I listen to her breathe, and I feel so very aware of how it could all be gone in an instant. A car accident, a shooting, a drowning… countless ways in which the truest of happinesses can be lost forever. The first weeks of December are devoted to that reality, and to the gratitude that comes to me every day that I have joy in my life again.

December 6, 2012. I started bleeding the next morning.

a hole in the ground

I was ready to move Avalon’s ashes from my bedroom shelf. But I admit, I was hardly ready to place them in a hole in the ground. I was ready to start visiting her gravestone as a way to stay in touch with my grief and remember her, but I was hardly ready to see that beloved box covered in dirt.

It really was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I played “I Will Carry You” by Selah from my car, both my parents and my stepmom were there (that sort of happened coincidentally) and I added some new decorations to the the site. When it came time to place her ashes in that deep, dark hole, I threw myself into my mom’s arms sobbing “I don’t want to put her in there!”. We ended up doing it together. I placed a baby pink rose from the garden on top, and threw in the first handful of dirt. I then asked everyone to go ahead so I could have a few minutes alone.

The cemetery caretaker came, and very apologetically filled in the rest of the dirt and packed it down. He wanted the paperwork (her cremation certificate) but I’d forgotten it.

Honestly, it was brutal. I’ve avoided that final act of placing my daughter in the ground for three years almost… and now I know why.

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Rest in peace, daughter.

preparing for burial

I finally contacted the cemetery caretaker (or whatever his title is) and scheduled a day and time to put Avalon’s ashes in the ground under her headstone.

I’m not sure what else to say about it, or what to really even think. I just know I don’t want to leave her ashes sitting on a shelf in my bedroom, an unsanctified place where she is overlooked. I want her to be in a place that serves to memorialize the fact that she was, she existed, she was loved.

It will just be me, and my mom probably, and hopefully someone can watch M for me. I have a few new decorations for the site and will bring some flowers. I don’t know what I’ll say, or how long I’ll be there. I just know that I’m going to do it, and after that it will truly be a place for me to grieve.

little reminders

I got a letter in the mail from the hospital where I delivered Avalon. It stated that because my privacy was breached, they were required to notify me that the camera chip which stored photos of deceased babies for momentos to give to grieving parents was stolen, and despite a thorough investigation, they have not been recovered. Information on the chip may have included: mother’s name, mother’s birth date, baby’s weight, and baby’s photo.

I just think… god. Somewhere is this chip, and on it is all of these dead babies. And photos of mothers experiencing the most poignantly sad and traumatic event of their life (holding their dead baby).

It’s just like this collection of heartbreak was a balloon… and now it’s just out there, floating through the world. My story, our stories, just drifting into the universe, a message in a bottle, a signal beamed out into the night sky.

waiting just under the surface…

…is this trauma. This grief.

This morning I looked up my ER note from the other day (foot pain, tendonitis). I read through my medical history, my eyes sticking on “complete miscarriage” (miscarriage in medical terms simply means the unplanned end of a pregnancy, up until full term). Then I see G1P0. (Pregnant once, live birth zero in medical lingo.)

G1P0. Zero. One minus one equals zero. Backspace, delete. Zero. Gone. Whole person inside me, now a zero. G1, a person. P0, not living. Gone. Zero.

Tears in my eyes, just suddenly, I’m so sad. I’m so sad for that woman in the chart, who was me, and that dead baby, who is just two letters and two numbers and nothing else. G1P0. Not baby girl named Avalon who died, grieving mother with no baby. A non-mother. Almost-mother. Baby loss mother. Lost mother.

A co-worker just got back from maternity leave. I overheard her and a patient conversing about the fact that her firstborn child was stillborn. I went to her in a break room (I didn’t know her before this) and said, “I overheard that you lost your daughter. I had a stillborn daughter, too.” We talked a long time. And we would’ve talked longer if we didn’t have to go, you know, actually do some work.

So two of us immigrants from planet MyBabyDied found brief solace in one another. In acknowledging our burdens, our almost-joys, our missing girls.

Harper Lynn and Avalon Linda.

Eliza. Celeste. Alexander. Luke. Willow. Hazel. Clara. Avery. Liam. Evelyn. Anya. Georgina. All of them. All of our children.

you were born passing away

For the little girl who was literally born passing, two years ago today.

(From here.)

This is the realm of the passing away.
All that exists does not for long.
Whatever comes into this world never stops sliding
toward the edge of eternity.

Form arises from formlessness and passes back,
arising and dissolving in a few dance steps between
creation and destruction.
We are born passing away.

Seedlings and deadfall all face forward.
Earthworms eat what remains.
We sing not for that which dies but for that which
never does.

–Stephen Levine
Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace

and then it was… 2 years

My last happy day was December 6th, 2012. It was a Friday. I had bought a new car, and had a lovely little belly to show off. I had baked oatmeal cookies for my secret Santa at work and taken photos with my family for my grandma’s church directory. We still have those photos, the poses in which I didn’t think I looked too “fat”. I was convinced I didn’t look pregnant enough yet from some angles to seem anything but overweight. I am smiling innocently in those photos. I am tired, but I am happy.

Two years ago today I was being dragged toward a cliff’s edge and I was unable to stop it. They said it might be ok, my cervix might thicken up. But at 10:30pm I went into labor. We were watching the Late Show, or something. The pain was so regular. I sat in the passenger seat of my new car, ramrod straight, timing the contractions, my head full of white static, my fists gripped tightly around whatever they could find. I was about to lose everything I wanted, I was about to die in so many ways. But I couldn’t stop it. No one could stop it.

I never thought that I would be happy again, and I guess it’s true that I will never be happy in the same way again. Now I live in a world where babies are given and taken away. Where tragedy happens not just to my patients, or on the news, but to me. It’s a different world, a scarier world, and a more precious world, too. Two years later I no longer think of the daughter whose hand I would have been holding, whose diaper I would have been changing, whose hair I would be brushing. She has truly left me now, said her first goodbye when M was placed in my arms and her last goodbye when the adoption order was signed.

The ashes are still there, on my book shelf. The grave site is just a place. I still can’t quite bring myself to part with the last remnants of my only biological child, the only human being I ever created by myself. I still flinch when I see pregnant women or witness a happy birth scene on TV.

I wouldn’t change my life now for anything, even to get her back, but gosh, it still hurts.

Bliss and sacrifice

Sometimes I lie in bed in awe that the government gave me this perfect little girl to call my own. It feels crazy that a person can even be something to give. Then again, I think, they were simply formalizing a relationship that had already been solidified in our hearts. I lie in bed and feel lucky. Then I feel dread… Dread for the day she sees a pregnant belly and I explain that a baby is in there, and she asks me if she had been in my belly and I have to say no. Dread that her little face will fall. It will be the first time she knows in any way that we are a different kind of mother and daughter. It will be her first grappling with that. It will create her first conscious awareness that someone else was once that close to her, closer than me.

In the early days I struggled not to wish that Avalon was her. Now I struggle not to wish that she had been the baby inside me. It all happened on the same timeline… So it gets confusing. Oh how I loved that baby inside me, felt such a special bond with her. Oh how I love this baby I’m raising, feel the need to be her everything as she is mine. Wish I had been her everything, from even conception. Hate that I will be one of her mothers, instead of the only one. Feel so honored, so blessed, to be the one who gets her childhood memories in their entirety.

We are entirely happy. I love taking her places, watching her experience trampolines, swimming pools, parks, pumpkins, and even time outs. I love her falling asleep beside me, her breath steady, sometimes snores. I love preparing her lunch for school, and hearing the pitter patter of her little feet running through the house. I love kissing her still chubby cheeks, and her big, wiggly feet, just as I did when she was a baby.

I love that she loves the moon, and just noticed the stars for the first time. I love that I was there for that. I love that I can understand her language, as it emerges, so easily before anyone else can decipher it. I love that she is such a complete, interesting, solid little person. So herself, unexpectedly and perfectly her own person.


Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. It is also, strangely, the day I was thrown what might possibly be my one and only shower of any kind (marriage, baby, adoption).

When I lost my pregnancy only half way through, and said goodbye forever to the little girl who was my daughter, and who I desperately wanted to mother in every way, I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t believe in God, in a reason, or a divine purpose. I didn’t believe in angels, or learning lessons, or fate. I guess I just believed, and still do, that I was like everyone else who’d suffered great loss: unlucky, fragile, and human. I had lost a most fervent dream just before it was in my reach. I had lost the person I loved more than anyone. But that didn’t mean I was special. I was in good company. I work in critical care, you know? I see tragic loss every day. I guessed I just wasn’t that different from everyone else.

What I could never have imagined at that point, and would never have believed, was that I still had a daughter on the way. My dreams of baby showers and childbirth were over, but not motherhood. All of the joys of raising a little girl were still about to come true. On April 15th, just three weeks before my due date, my forever daughter was literally deposited on my doorstep. Not by the stork, but by a CPS worker.

I didn’t labor her out of my body, it’s true. But I feel that, somehow, she was labored out of my grief. My contractions were my tears. My exhaustion was in my heartbreak. My miracle was somehow pushed out of me, from a place beyond myself, a place I did not know existed. A place called hope, from which I must have acted when I put myself back on that foster care home list.

And it was a miracle, it really was. Nothing about it was easy.,. I felt guilty for loving another baby so much so soon after losing mine. I felt guilty for still wanting the daughter I’d felt kick and grow within me to be alive when I was so blessed to be holding the living baby in my arms. I felt guilty for wanting to be M’s forever mommy so badly, when that meant that Avalon would have to be dead for it to happen. One could not exist without the other being gone, could they?

The truth is that one could NOT exist without the other. M is my forever daughter because Avalon was my daughter first. M is here with me because Avalon existed, not because she died. I have to think of it that way, or go crazy.

Today my co-workers threw me the one and only baby (adoption) shower I’m likely ever to have, and whether or not I should, I loved that cultural validation of being a new mother, a mother for the “first” time. I also love the serendipity that on this day of celebrating my daughter, it also happens to be a world-wide day of remembrance for infants loved and loss. Those first few days with M, I remember feeling so clearly that Avalon was telling me goodbye, and “mommy now you’ll be ok, your daughter is here”. Today, via this strange coincidence, I almost felt as if she had come back to me to say hello, and to honor her sister.