BACK OFF: Words of Wisdom from an Experienced, Grieving Mom
Today you will not find my usual “light” topic post. Why? Because I’m angry….and I’m sad. As I was casually scanning my FB feed this morning, I stumbled upon a friend’s response to this article. To be fair, I generally don’t pay much attention to the media or the Duggar Family for that matter. However, the controversy surrounding the photos of their stillborn baby grabbed by attention. Rather, the words tugged ripped at my heart at an issue that hits very close to home.
I’ve wrestled for years on writing something, a memoir, anything to help other grieving parents and their friends process the feelings of loss they will inevitably face. When my husband and I learned the news at our 20 week ultrasound that our sweet baby had a congenital heart defect that was considered “incompatible with life”, our world was forever changed. For the next few weeks, we grappled with the news, prayed, cried, and basically fell apart. Those next few weeks were the hardest of our lives. At just under 23 weeks, I labored for 3 long days in the hospital and finally gave birth to my sweet Landon. He was tiny at just 10 inches and weighed in at 13.2 oz. He had ten perfect little fingers and ten itty bitty toes. We told him how much we loved him and how hard it was to have to say goodbye. We reassured him that God would have him in His palm. We held him close, talked to him, prayed over him, and kissed him goodbye. The tears didn’t stop—they kept flowing for days, weeks, and months. Yet, somehow, we were to return to our normal life and routine.
The thing about grief is that it’s sneaky and takes you by surprise. As I sat in my office almost an entire year later, I found myself in deep mourning as I faced my computer screen. I was given the task to write a brief biography for my work. In the world of Athletics, it was common practice to see biographies of coaches and support staff in a game day program. It was a simple task, really. For me, though, it was anything but easy. You see, most biographies ended something like this: “She and her husband reside in Anywhere, OH with their 3 year old son, Antonio.” That’s when it hit me. I didn’t have one son, I had two. Yet nowhere was there a handbook on how to write THAT in a biography. Why? Because death makes people nervous.
I lost a baby boy that I desperately wanted. I lost a baby boy whom I had mentally bonded with for 22 weeks. He kicked in the womb and made his presence known. I dreamed of how he would interact with his big brother. I reveled in the idea that I would have two boys and that our family was expanding. I wondered how he would be alike or different from my first born. Would he have the same big, brown, amazing eyes of his father? You see, he was real from the moment I found out I was pregnant. He had a room, with a crib, and place in our hearts.
After his birth, our friends and family sent cards expressing such sweet and tender messages of love and support. They gave us beautiful gifts to honor his birth and death. We planted a tree and made a Landon Garden. We hung an ornament on the tree at Christmas, a gift from our friends and neighbors who had also experienced the gut-wrenching loss of a baby. But Christmas time was and is always tough because he was born on December 21st. For parents who have lost a baby, the birthday is always a reminder of those feelings that we have neatly tucked away.
Here’s what I most want to say. It’s ok to not know what to say or how to comfort grieving parents. Before I experienced this loss, I fumbled to talk with people who had lost a loved one. I was tongue-tied at funerals and felt incompetent of expressing my sympathy. Now, I know it’s perfectly fine to feel awkward. More importantly, I know that it’s equally appreciated if you acknowledge the loved one beyond the first two weeks after a death. Personally, I NEEDED to know that people knew Landon was important and real to me. I wasn’t done talking about him. I wasn’t done loving him. Yet this article reflects just how uncomfortable people are with death and of acknowledging stillborn babies. The article says people might find the pictures “distressing”. I’m deeply saddened that anyone would judge these parents or fault them for making photos of their precious baby public. I only have a handful of photos of Landon. In fact, I didn’t even think about taking pictures until I read a pamphlet given to us by the hospital. The pamphlet encouraged parents to take pictures and to spend time with the baby—even if he/she was not alive at birth. We heeded this advice and to this day, I’m so happy that we did.
It’s been five years and I still think of my sweet boy. I still look at the photos to remember everything I can about him. Sometimes our memories fade and are not as vivid as we’d like. For me, the few photos I have are everything. So please remember that to these families, pictures of the baby are a symbol of their love and devotion. The pictures honor the member of a family who is no longer living but who is forever burnt into their hearts. For me, hanging photos of Landon lets others know we are always a family of five. The photos allow me to acknowledge that I have three sons and express my love to a child that is loved beyond measure.