Five

“How many children do you have?”

Cue record scratch.

The most innocent question that suddenly leaves me feeling like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I freeze for a second, like a deer facing headlights and my brain scrambles, searching for the right words.

To avoid pity and hollow platitudes, I could say four. But that doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve done that once before and it left me feeling sick and guilt ridden. After all, I do have five. Sterling will always be our #5. He deserves to be counted.

Now, I’ll always say five. There are days when I just can’t bear my Sterling being invisible, so I light up my phone screen and show off his photo. I say that he died at 6 days old but that our love for him lasts a lifetime and beyond. And sometimes, I just say five and leave it at that- unless I’m asked where the fifth one is, of course.

Homesick

Dear Sterling,

It’s hard to be here, sometimes. At home.

Yes, its where you were born. It’s where you lived for one whole day before the hospital days.

But when I’m here, all I see are the empty spaces where you should be.

I see the holes where your cosleeper should be, where stacks of tiny diapers should’ve been stored.

I feel a physical pain, a burning hole in my chest that radiates down throughout my arms and reaches my fingertips. My entire body just aches for you.

I yearn for you constantly. My mind, body, and soul are so aware of your absence.

I see glimpses of you all around this place. It’s as if my mind etches you into the places you would be if you were here, because it knows I just can’t bear to live without you..

They say home is where the heart is, but a part of my heart died along with you and I’m left learning how to live this way.

I will never be whole here. I will never be at home here. There is no home for us without you in it.

Haters

Oh, the grieving mother. She can’t do anything right, can she?

If she grieves publicly, then she’s doing it for attention. Yet, if she doesn’t say any anything out loud, she isn’t grieving her baby.

If she talks about the one she’s lost, then she isn’t caring for her living children. But if she gives her living children attention, then she isn’t mourning the one she’s lost.

If she is having a hard time, then she is stuck in her grief and needs to move on, yet if she gets out of bed and lives her life, she is moving forward too quickly. 

And God forbid she ever smile or laugh or feel any joy at all after her loss, because that must mean she doesn’t love her dead baby.

The grieving mother can’t do anything without being met with judgement. With comments that echo, “If my baby died, I would _____” or “I wouldn’t _____” But the people who say these things don’t really know, do they?

The people who say these things are always those who haven’t come close to what the bereaved mother has experienced. They haven’t had to watch their child suffer in the hospital and fight for their life. Or hold their dying baby while their tiny body turns blue in their arms. Or go to check on their babes, only to find them cold and lifeless in their beds. Or have the promise of life be ripped from their grasp as they deliver a silent, still baby.

If you knew, if you really knew, your views would be different. Your judgement would melt away and you would know that the grieving mother doesn’t need your advice, but a little bit of grace and a whole lot of love and compassion. And remember, however you choose to proceed and whatever you decide to say about the grieving mother says a lot more about you and your character than it does about her.

I wonder

You would have been 3 months old today. And it hit me last night that this is all I know.

No stats, no milestones, no chance to see your personality come alive.

I don’t get to be amazed by the rate you’re growing or hear first laughs and giggles.

I never even got to see you smile.

No first foods or first steps or scrubbing walls where you’ve left scribbles.

No first day of school or first date, first car or first job.

No wedding day, no grandbabies, no chance to see you become a man.

All those dreams, gone. They died along with you.

And now all I have left is to wonder.

Grief VS Mourning

A few weeks after Sterling died, I read a psychologist’s explanation of the difference between grief and mourning. I’ll do my best to explain it. It goes something like this:

Grief is the way you feel about losing your child. It’s the earth shattering, heart-wrenching, spirit crushing pain that you are now tasked to live with for the rest of your life. The kind of unimaginable pain that no words are ever strong enough to describe and that no parent is sure they’ll be able to survive.

Mourning is the outward expression of grief. The way your tears are the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night. The way you stay cooped up inside your house, unable to move because even the effort it takes to breathe is too overwhelming.

I used to use the words interchangeably. But this text completely changed my view and soothed me immensely. Before, I thought it would be this bad forever and that was a horrible thought. Will I really spend the rest of my life in this much agony? Will I really go to bed every night shocked and grateful that we survived another day? Only to wake up every morning distressed and dreading that I would have to do it all over again?

Then again, I truly didn’t want this to get easier. The thought of that was even worse. It wouldn’t be right. Sterling deserves to be grieved intensely. Like every other child gone too soon, he’s too precious, important, and too loved for me to be anything other than completely destroyed by his loss.

But when I learned to separate grief and mourning, it brought me peace and hope.

Grief is unending and unchanging. The pain of this loss will never get any easier. I will carry it with me, wherever I go, every second of every day, until the day that I die and am reunited with my son. But the mourning process? THAT is what changes. Of course, I will mourn him every single day, but the way I mourn won’t always be this bleak. It will one day become a little lighter to carry, at least on some days. I haven’t quite made it to that point, but I know there are brighter days ahead. And the best part is- every day that passes is another day closer to heaven.

Marshmallow Fluff

I wrote a post on grief and mourning and then decided not to share those words today after all.

Then I picked a portion of something I wrote in my journal and decided not to share that either.

Then I chose a quote by Mary Shelley. Did you know she lost her one year old and her 3 year old? No wonder she wrote about monsters.

Anyway, I decided against every well thought out caption for this photo, because when I look at it, all I can think about are the comments that will flood in about how adorable and chubby he is.

Yes, he is adorable and chubby. But not this chubby. This wasn’t just precious baby chub, earned by a good latch, a suckling babe, and impressive milk supply.

This was water weight that he carried because his body wasn’t functioning well enough to flush it out. The day before this, he weighed 7lbs. In this moment, he weighed 9lbs.

He eventually was able to clear out the water weight, but I look at this photo and can’t help but feel jealous. Jealous and sad.

Jealous of these tubes that nourished my son, when it should’ve been me. I should’ve been able to take the credit for his chubbiness- for real, chunky rolls that would eventually appear instead of this artificial marshmallow fluff that appeared overnight and would vanish the next day.

And sad, that he couldn’t fully heal so I could bring him home to continue our breastfeeding relationship, to help him grow with nothing but my own body.

So, here we are. No pretty, edited words to express where I’m at today. Just the incoherent ramblings of a grieving mother. Or to put it more eloquently, word vomit.

Naptime

Dear Sterling,

It’s naptime now. Ever is sleeping in her crib. Oliver is having trouble falling asleep. I lay beside him in his bed, stroking his dark hair, amazed at how much he resembles you.

Oliver rolls his Lego Spiderman between his hands. I wonder if you would’ve liked Spiderman and Lego too.

Oliver points out the light that makes its way past blackout curtains and illuminates an empty spot on the floor. A void where your crib would’ve gone. The crib isn’t here and neither are you. My heart breaks a little more.

Oliver sees through my strong exterior and places his hand on my face, sensing the shift in my mood. He runs his fingers through my hair and tells me it’s beautiful.

“I like purple,” he says. I wonder if you would’ve liked it too and what kinds of things you would’ve said to melt me the same way Ollie does.

I tell Oliver to close his eyes and think of the best day and maybe he will go there in his dreams. He closes his eyes.

“The beach,” he says, eyes still closed with a smile on his face.

I wonder if I’m the only one who spends every second thinking of you. The thought makes me sad.

“The beach,” he says again, his smile widening, “…and we could pick up Sterling from heaven and take him with us.”

We are always thinking of you, darling baby.

Grace

I recieved this question from another loss mama: how do you manage the bad days with kids?

As I heated store bought soup for dinner, I realized the answer to that question.

Grace.

Grace to the people around you, but especially, give grace to yourself. Shower yourself with grace. Bathe in it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Grace for me yesterday was serving pre-made, store bought soup for dinner. It was accepting help when it was offered. It was neglecting the laundry to soak up snuggles and using paper plates so I didn’t have to worry about dishes. It was wearing pajamas all day and watching way too much TV with my living kids.

Then, it was throwing every ounce of guilt out the window, because this is grief. This is survival. I’m not the mom I used to be and for now, that’s okay. We’ll find a little more normalcy with each day that passes.

And don’t worry- your children will give you all the grace you need from them too.

hi, it’s me.

If you’re new here, you’ll quickly learn that I’m not one for selfies. I tend to feel more comfortable on the other side of the camera, unless I’m in a photo with my kids.

My husband took this photo of me yesterday and I felt that I should show my face today, so you can get a better picture of the mama behind the words.

Every day, I write to my boy, about my boy and all about my thoughts and feelings as I openly mourn. You’ll hear a lot about my jouney through grief, while I navigate the loss of one who I cannot bear to live without.

If you’re another grieving mama, I hope you’ll feel safe here with me. I started sharing as an outlet for my grief, as well as a way to connect with other grieving moms and their families. And at some point, I turned into a bit of an advocate mama, once I realized how much Sterling’s life (and our experiences) could help others in the long run. If I had only met another UCD mama before Sterling was born…

I appreciate you for being here. I am honored that you’re along for the ride and quite frankly, blown away that anyone wants to stick around and hear what I have to say.

For now, all I have to say is thank you!

Vitamin Sea

Darling boy,

You were near today.

Perhaps there’s something about the ocean that makes everyone feel a little closer to heaven.

You were there in the sound of the other children’s laughter, as it danced through the salty air.

I saw you in Oliver, as he stretched out his arms like wings and ran across the sea kissed sand. I had a vision of you doing the same on streets of gold.

You were with us today. These places where your presence is so undeniably strong, these are the places I never want to leave.

02.15.2020