I haven’t spoken much about our daughter Lily or our stillbirth experience, mainly because it is still too painful to talk about most of the time. But throughout the last few months since we lost her, friends from my stillbirth support group have told me a lot about their stories and how sharing helps them heal. So, for anyone out there who has lost a child to stillbirth, miscarriage or in any other way, I hope you get a chance to read this. I don’t have any answers as to why all of this painfulness happens, but maybe there is comfort from knowing that another person understands how you feel and that you are not alone in their loss. As I have grieved over this Lenten season, a lot about Easter, God’s love and my faith has been challenged. But I know that even though God would never give us terrible experiences to teach us, He is able to use our deepest pain for His glory. So here goes…
Stillbirth is messy. It is deep, gut-wrenching, hard to breathe grief that seeps into your life and clouds your perspective on everything you experience. It is messy because everything that used to be black and white in your world turns all different shades of grey. You can’t make easy decisions anymore. All of your life choices were being planned with another little person in your mind and your heart and trying to make them with this unbelievable loss skews your decision-making skills.
All of the medical professionals keep asking me if we will try again to have a baby because they want black and white as well, they need a plan, but how can you make any decisions for the future when your world has stopped so suddenly? Well meaning little elderly ladies stop my family all the time and ask how many kids I have. More grey area. Do I say four and feel like I have betrayed Lily by not remembering and sharing her? Or do I say five, because the next inevitable question that comes is, “Aww, how old are they?” When you start that answer by saying that one of them is in Heaven, talk gets awkward fast. People aren’t prepared for ugly honesty when they make small talk. It is offensive to a lot of people to answer honestly when they ask you how you are doing.
We were looking at houses before Lily died, and I just can’t bring myself to do it now because who wants to buy a house for a family that is suddenly not expanding? Or a new vehicle, or new baby items? Out of the blue, life is moving in reverse. We put Lily’s baby crib together the day before she was born and then came home only to have to take it apart again. There is an entire “unplanning” of your life that happens that you don’t see coming and that is always slapping you in the face at odd moments.
Some people mean well but don’t seem to know what to say. Many of my friends have been amazing through my grieving and I am so thankful for that. But I still occasionally get condolences like, “At least she isn’t suffering and is in Heaven,” to which I smile, but I really want to scream, “Really? Would you say that if it was your child who just died?” Or people look my way but look away when I make eye contact. Being avoided because it makes people uncomfortable to talk to you is also hurtful, but at the same time, what is there to be said between you? When you lose a spouse, you are a widow. When you lose your parents, you are an orphan. When you lose your child, what are you? There is no name for you because your kids aren’t supposed to die before you do.
There is a lot of guilt that comes along with stillbirth as well. No matter how many times doctors tell me that it’s not my fault, I stay awake at night wondering if there was something that I could have done differently. Many of the moms I have met through this loss share the same guilt, even though we know that realistically it is unwarranted. I feel guilt that I am not happy for my dear friends who are expecting babies of their own. I am genuinely glad for them, but between remembering each time that I see them that I should still be pregnant as well and the worry that comes from loving them and thinking, “what if it happens to them too?,” I can’t feel excited. I feel guilty that our other kids who shouldn’t know so much about death and loss have experienced it so much in the past couple of years. I feel guilty that I am so angry sometimes. I feel guilty that I have grieved so much more for Lily than for the other four babies that we have lost to miscarriage. Their lives mattered just as much, but I didn’t get to name them, see them, touch them. I feel guilty that I was lamenting being pregnant with four kids at home and how hard it was just days before Lily died when now all I can do is desperately wish that I was tired with a huge belly and swollen ankles.
It is difficult to experience any kind of loss, but I think that stillbirth is unique in that I knew this little person SO well and no one else knew her at all. Life has moved on for everyone around me and I feel like I walk through it in a fog sometimes; everything is the same way it used to be, but everything is completely different and will never be the same again. I will never be the same again. I don’t think I’m supposed to be. But experiencing the biggest loss in my life without other people knowing this little person is lonely. I want so desperately for people to know how beautiful Lily was. I wish they had seen her little upturned nose that we call the “Moilanen nose” that all of my kids have. I wish that, even though her whole hand fit on the end of my finger, people knew that it looked just like her big brother Isaac’s hands. I wish that people could have experienced her so that this loss didn’t feel so much like solitary confinement.
When you lose a child, you brace yourself for deep grief, but there is a lot that you don’t see coming that is almost as hard to deal with as the loss itself. The first was being wheeled out of the hospital 13 hours after giving birth with nothing but a memory box and a teddy bear in my arms. I was back in the clothes that I had worn to the hospital, when I still thought that we were just there for a routine visit for my son. It felt like the events of the last two days had never happened. Then came the realization that just days later we had to go back to the same hospital for another appointment for our son, and keep going back week after week, month after month, year after year to the same triggering sights, smells and sounds that we experienced during the death of our daughter.
Then my milk came in, but there was no baby to feed. She was really gone. Then there was the day that I put on a pair of my socks and realized that they were the socks I had worn and stared at the whole time I was in labor. Then came my first period, back with a vengeance and reminding me of the trauma of labor being induced and bleeding and contracting, knowing that at the end of it all, I would meet my baby, but she wouldn’t be coming home with me. Then came Thanksgiving, then Christmas, family birthday parties, pieces of my life that were suddenly not what they should be. Next is my due date. After all of this grief, Lily shouldn’t even be here yet, but the time from when we met her until now feels like a lifetime ago. How will I get through the day that she was supposed to join us, alive, healthy and completing our family?
So what does this have to do at all with Lent and Easter? Why do I mention Easter at all? I have been very angry with God lately, just like I was last year when William almost died. What is there to celebrate this year as we face more holidays, milestones and life events that will not feel quite right, not whole?
I looked up “Easter Lily” online today and read about the origins of why we as Christians adorn our churches with Lilies on Easter. One account said,
“Often called the “white-robed apostles of hope,” lilies were found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s agony. Tradition has it that the beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and deep distress. A mark of purity and grace throughout the ages, the regal white lily is a fitting symbol of the greater meaning of Easter. Gracing millions of homes and churches, the flowers embody joy, hope and life. Whether given as a gift or enjoyed in your own home, the Easter Lily serves as a beautiful reminder that Easter is a time for rejoicing and celebrating.”
We named our daughter Lily Grace, and I can’t think of anything more fitting than a name that reflects both sorrow and deep distress as well as joy, hope and life. I choose to have my Lily remind me of the rejoicing of Easter and the grace that we didn’t deserve but were given anyway on that day. A year ago, I wrote about Lent and spoke to the fact that we had almost lost our son to his illness. We grieved deeply then and a year later, we are grieving even harder through Lent. At Lily’s funeral, my Dad mentioned that as we are nearing Easter, it will never have the same meaning that it did before because now we have a personal stake in Heaven and know that Easter means that we will see Lily and our other kids again. My Lily has brought deep sorrow and distress, but even so, I would go through all of this again to be able to have her for the time that we did because I know that joy, hope and life are still to come when I meet her again and that she has already achieved them all.
I have heard the crucifixion and resurrection story more times than I can count and each time, I have focused on what Jesus did for us by allowing Himself to be tortured and crucified all because He loved us so much. But what I didn’t focus on enough is God’s part of the story. We always talk about sadness surrounding God at the death of His son, but to me, I always thought, “Well, at least He already knew that it would only be 3 days and then Jesus would be alive again.” Wow my view has changed! I would die for my kids, just like any good parent would and just like Jesus died for me. But losing my child, even though I know I will see her again some day in Heaven is a different type of loss that is really indescribable. A piece of me is missing and it will be until I get to Heaven.
When we finalized William’s adoption, I talked about how God gave me new clarity on what it meant to be adopted by Him. It was a beautiful gift that He gave our family in showing us what adoption actually meant and how much He actually loved us. We could finally understand because we loved Will with a firy passion just like our other kids. We felt so blessed to go through the grueling process of adoption in order to experience that understanding.
Now, as I sit here in the ruins of the plans and dreams that I had for our family’s future, I have to be in awe of God in the midst of it. I can never thank Him enough for Heaven, for taking care of my daughter until I see her again and for not only knowing exactly how I am feeling right now in this seemingly incomprehensible loss, but for going through it willingly so that Lily and all of us are able to live forever. This time, I wish with all my heart that we didn’t have to walk through our circumstances in order to gain understanding, but I know that God walks with us. I have cried, screamed, shaken my fist at God a lot recently for all that we have been through. But in the middle of it, He tells me that He truly knows; more than the moms in my support group, more than the friends and family who have stood by us and carried us, more than even myself.
I will continue to grieve the loss of Lily my whole life, even though I know it will not always be this intense and overwhelming. Through the years I will grieve the holidays, birthdays, graduation, wedding, grandkids, everything that we lost when Lily left us too soon. And most of all, I will grieve every day that I don’t get to see her, touch her, hold her again. Two hours was just not enough. But I will celebrate Easter in the midst of my grief because I serve a God who loves me and all of my kids so much that there is nothing that He won’t go through for me, even in all of my weakness and despair, to bring me safely to joy, hope and new life. Happy Easter to all.