This is hands down one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. It’s been one that has been stirring in my heart for over a year now. One that often sends me crashing and burning, wondering how I’ll ever explain some of the things I might be writing here, to Evelyn one day as she gets older, but somewhere deep down inside I know it needs to be said. It’s our story. And it’s messy. But above everything else, love is in the center of this mess. And I hope that in my clumsy attempt to put this part of my heart into something slightly more tangible – that LOVE is what reigns when all these words fall from my heart and through my fingertips, and glows through someone else’s screen.
Since I decided to let a lot of my work in the baby loss community go, and embrace this change in my path… (a focus on art and writing), a few well-meaning friends have wondered and asked me if I would be where I am today (healing-wise, I think), if it weren’t for Evelyn Jane.
The truth is, I wouldn’t. And I was honest each time those piercing questions came. I am not bothered by the question – I think being in the baby loss community, being highly involved and then one day nearly walking away completely from that line of work raises a few eyebrows, maybe a few critics, but definitely questions. Letting Still Standing Magazine slip out of my hands was one of the hardest choices I have made since starting my online work. I struggle with even calling it “work” because none of this ever really feels like work. Sometimes I write, and that helps my heart and soul and mind process life… sometimes I create and I love to share what happens with my creations whether they are messy, ridiculous or something that I am actually happy with. And sometimes I connect with some of the most inspiring, amazing souls. It’s hard to call what you love to do… work. I am very blessed.
But a few months ago, I felt an urgency to leave the baby loss community behind… not so much the people – in fact not the people at all, but the environment. The constant reminders that we are casting on ourselves. The label of being a baby loss mom. I don’t want to be remembered that way. For a while, I was afraid of not being known as a baby loss mom, but I never wanted the death of my first daughter to define me. I just didn’t want to lose her anymore than I already had, if that makes any sense at all. I’ve done a lot of different things since losing her to keep her memory alive. Most of those things I’ve shared at one time or another on this blog, and on facebook. I think it became an obsession. But it was the kind of obsession that was born from fear. I became so afraid of losing her memory, that I felt like I needed to keep doing something. But it has never been enough. Not once. At the end of the day, she’s still dead. She is still the one I had to say goodbye to, and no matter how many journals I donated, or how many memory boxes were sent out, or how many candles I burned, God never changed his mind and let this all become one really cruel nightmare. It’s always our reality that we lost our first child. It never stops being real, or true, or infinitely devastating.
One of the biggest ways I honored her life was by founding Still Standing Magazine. It started on the day she would have been three. It’s going strong, and it is a tragedy really that something like it is even needed, but when I felt that urgency to distance myself from the baby loss world, I knew that this resource needed to live on.
Surrounding myself with articles talking about fresh, raw grief daily left me feeling like a hypocrite, honestly. Because there were many, many days when I could remember relating to any given article in the past, but my typical day now does not involve tears or anger over our daughter’s death. My typical day feels quite normal, whatever normal is these days. But the bottom line is, I’m happy again. And I’ve been shying away from that fact, even shamed myself into thinking, what will people think when they see how happy I really am? when it came to writing for this online space – my blog and Still Standing.
After we announced that we were having a girl, when I was pregnant with Evelyn, I started getting mixed signals from a few people in the baby loss community. Most were overjoyed for us, but some felt inclined to let me know that I needed to be more sensitive about how I shared our pregnancy/our joy over having another girl. I have to say, that it kind of broke my heart reading those latter responses, because before ever sharing *any* bit of happiness or joy over Evelyn (even to this day) I always, always think about the ones who will never get their “rainbow”. It’s almost like this silent guilt I keep carrying around for getting a girl. At the same time I know that the person(s) at the other end were not speaking out of malice, but from a wounded, broken heart – who might not have the privilege to carry life again, and get that “rainbow”, or perhaps they have been trying for some time now. It’s always bittersweet, and I’ve been holding back on the sweet… a lot here.
Sharing the joy over Evelyn isn’t the same as it was with Joseph. With Joseph, he was a miracle. He was the baby that filled my arms and warmed our hearts. He made me smile again. And I never knew I could fall so deeply in love so quickly after losing Jenna.
Evelyn came with a whole different set of circumstances and heart-expectations. The truth is, I never ever dreamed or dared to imagine that I’d have another girl one day. It was a dream I was scared to fantasize about. I had my boy. I could hug him. I could love on him. Give me another boy, something about boys feels safe. I thought, maybe God just doesn’t think I’d be a good “girl mom”. He’ll probably let me keep another boy, but watch me get pregnant with a girl, he will probably take her from me.
I didn’t want another girl, because I was afraid of so many things. What if I compared her to Jenna? What if I couldn’t love her? What if she died too? Would her death mean as much? Would I be capable of mourning or would I die of a broken heart this time? What if I called her Jenna?
And then… BOOM.
She was a girl. I didn’t cry. I don’t know if I can even articulate how it felt to hear Pete say when he opened that gender-revealing envelope that we were going to have another girl.
I thought I would burst into dramatic, happy tears, but I didn’t. All I remember doing is… freezing. This was real though. She was a girl! And then when it started to sink in, all these things came flooding over of me again…
The bows! The ribbons! The pink! The ballet slippers, and sweet Sunday morning dresses… all the things I had shunned away from because they were too painful… these little dreams could be ours again. That day I made our second daughter her first set of headbands.
And another seed of joy started blooming in my heart. More impossible joy after impossible loss.
For a long while I balanced this unforgiving beam of grief and joy. I founded Still Standing right after Evelyn was born. It was what my heart needed. I needed Jenna in my world in a very big way, because strangely – having Evelyn here with us made Jenna feel that much further away.
There is something about having a rainbow baby, and then there is something about having the same gender rainbow baby. Maybe not to all, but to some, yes. To me… most definitely.
When Evelyn was born I hardly ever talked about it, and if I did I glazed over it because it was too painful to admit but I fell into depression. I fought for four months with what a lot of doctors might write off as postpartum depression but to me, I knew it went much, much deeper (not to undermine postpartum, because I realize that that can be a very real, and serious matter). Mine went three years back, into that room where I held my first daughter as she took her last breathe… and none of it was peaceful. It was all horrific. Death was as real as the buttons my fingertips are pounding on that day. And he stole her from me.
Every time I held Evelyn, my heart was this impossible mix, like oil and water, of the purest joy and rawest grief. I had been here before, but never with a living girl. Something was different with Evelyn. And I hate myself that I could not separate grief and joy those months of her life. Without meaning to, I distanced my heart from her. I had a hard time bonding. I never saw this coming. I pleaded with heaven, I begged God for help. I talked to a few trusted friends about this. Everyone said it’s to be expected, but it didn’t make any of this easier.
I kept wondering when it would be enough. When would I stop letting death steal more of my life?
One night I can still remember the tears flowing… the breakthrough. I can’t even put it into words, but I knew that we’d be okay – her and I. That love that I was so afraid of giving her poured over her one night as I breastfed her, in months and months of heldback tears. I watched her falling asleep, both of us soaked with tears, and love. All this bundle of joy. So much richness. So much sadness. So much possibility. But the change in my heart that took place that night, it’s led me here.
Where I choose love. And choose joy. And sometimes I need to hang out with sorrow and pain too because they hold hands with the thief that took our first daughter from us. I’m comfortable with them though. They are like familiar foes, and we choose to get along. It amazes me how peace can exist even in the most impossible circumstances.
I don’t know how you go from writing a pretty narrow “baby loss” blog to writing a story all of it’s own. I’m willing to lose “followers” or “fans”, whatever facebook is calling that these days. I won’t think less of you if cannot read this part of our story right now. But there comes a time where you have to be you. You have to know what that means, and follow through. You have to know your limitations, and trust your instinct. And if anything, don’t let fear call the shots. Let love reign. Let hope persevere, and compassion rule in your heart.
I guess the great part is, I don’t have to choose between them. I choose them all. Jenna, Joseph and Evelyn. They each hold my WHOLE heart. And each of them have filled our story what it is today – chapters of love, tear stains, fear, impossible loss, followed by impossible joy and more impossibleness (yes, I just made up that word!) sprinkled everywhere in between. It’s just one big mess, but I guess (hoping?) you’re used that that around here…