There are no words, written or spoken, that could ever describe the unimaginable pain you are experiencing. In the depths of your broken heart lives an indescribable love that you have for your baby, one that will never fade, but will continue to grow for as long as you live.
He knows your voice. She knows your touch. They know your scent and the taste of your milk. They knew your love. Whether your baby lived earthside for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months, even if your baby was born sleeping, he or she knew you and the love you have for them. Even in that short amount of time, you gave them enough love to last a lifetime and beyond.
I know you didn’t get to mother your baby the way you had imagined or for as long as you had hoped, but every moment mattered and imparted a love that only you could give.
The 5th through the 11th of every month is a sacred space for us.
I imagine a world where Sterling lived and what life might’ve been like for us. I also travel back into my memories and remember what we were doing this day, 4 months ago.
On this day, 4 months ago, I was here in the ER with my newborn son. We were still waiting for the ambulance to arrive and transfer us to the hospital that would admit Sterling. We were being reassured by the nurses and doctors that all tests were negative and it was most likely a case of RDS.
They said he most likely just needed to be on CPAP for a week or 2 before bringing him home safe and sound.
On the 6th, back in December, I remember the fear I felt. I remember the hope I had amidst the pain of watching the newest, tiniest member of our family struggle to breathe. And I remember how quickly our hopes were crushed later this day. By the afternoon, Sterling had stopped breathing and was intubated. By the evening, his heart had stopped and I watched in horror as they revived my 1 day old baby boy.
I remember thinking this was the worst experience of my life. But the truth is nothing is worse than the hell I’m living now.
Back then, he was still here. He was still alive and I could rest my hand on his chest and his belly and feel the warmth of his skin. I could brush my fingers through his soft little hair. I could kiss his chubby cheeks, while avoiding tubes and wires that kept him alive.
I realize it’s selfish to wish him back in that hospital room and deep down, I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. But the hospital days don’t seem as horrific now, because those were the days he was alive. As hard as they were, if I could go back and relive them, even with the same outcome, I would do it in a heartbeat.
This time, I would never leave his side, not even for a moment. And instead of being afraid of what’s to come, I would soak up and enjoy every single second of life with Sterling.
You don’t need to be sorry for me. I’m still one of the lucky ones. This may not be how I imagined Sterling’s life, but I’m thankful he lived at all. I’m thankful for the hospital days and the time I had with him. I’m lucky to be his mama.
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.
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.
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.
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.