Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thankful Heart

I haven't been able to sleep thinking about what happened yesterday in the Kroger check out line...I need to vent, a soap box of sorts...and since my heart is too word-y for a Facebook post, here goes (it's been a while since I've used this blog as an emotional outlet!)...

It's that time of year when we focus on thankfulness...we celebrate what we are thankful for, the blessings in our life, and we set aside time for family. It's also an emotionally hard time of year for those who have lost loved ones. It's no secret that Nov-Dec are 'tough' for me as I walk the line between joy and sadness. Today is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Brody's 3rd birthday. And in a few weeks, we will celebrate Bristol's 4th heavenly birthday. Am I thankful? You bet'cha...but I'm also a little sad.

The more I talk with other women/families who've experienced a loss, the more normal I feel when it comes to the emotional side of me. When I look in my rear view mirror, I often wish that 3rd car seat was there. As I give the boys a goodnight kiss, I wonder what life would be like if Bristol had lived. When I fold laundry, a piece of me wishes there was a pink something to fold. I think it's natural. I am a mother and I love my children. Just because Bristol died doesn't mean I don't love her. And even though blessings have come from her death, doesn't mean I wouldn't change it for the world. I would give anything to hold her in my arms & smother her with kisses. But until that day comes, I will move forward. Notice I said forward, not, I will move on. There is a difference. I don't think anyone ever really moves on after saying goodbye to a baby. We are mothers. We love our children and from the moment we know we are pregnant we start having hopes and dreams for that child. So when our dreams are shattered at the news our baby has died, I don't think we can ever put the pieces back together completely because a piece is missing. We will never be the same- regardless of how well we may present ourselves on the outside.

Through Beats for Bristol, I talk with about 3 families per week who have experienced a loss and are experiencing a subsequent pregnancy. Unless you've been through one, you won't understand the emotional roller coaster another pregnancy is for the family. (That's a whole other topic for a future I'll keep going) What I find is that too often grieving mothers are hurting more during a subsequent pregnancy because they don't know how to answer "those" questions....Is this your first pregnancy? How many children do you have? Oh I bet you are hoping he/she will get to be a big brother/sister.....These seemingly innocent questions are HARD for a mother who has said goodbye to a baby. As women we are emotional protectors & fixers, we don't want others to hurt. So women end up shoving their emotions back down their throats and answering politely to whomever asked this question. Their life goes on, but the mother who just answered walks away broken and hurting. She feels awful, sad, and is hurting. She feels like she is denying the baby she buried, because she didn't want to hurt someone else's feelings. I pray you never have to be in those shoes because it sucks. There is no good way to either smile and answer politely, or answer honestly which usually results in an "I'm sorry" awkward response.

Brad & I were talking about this the other night...about answering "those" questions. He made the comment that it's easier for him (& I think this is true for most men) to just answer that we have 2 little boys because he doesn't want to create an awkward or hard conversation. But that is exactly my point. Why can't we answer honestly? Why can't we answer honestly and be received with grace instead of awkward silence? The simple answer is because babies aren't supposed to die and people don't know how to handle that reality. But what gets me is that people talk about everything else. Scroll through Facebook or listen to the conversations around you in a check out line. You will hear about bowel movements, drunken nights, arguments, parenting problems, medical issues, job crisis, sex lives, relationship drama, hardships, and death. We talk about fighting cancer, childhood diseases, death of beloved pets, but we can't talk about babies dying. We can't go there.

But the reality is that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a loss. Chances are you or someone you know has been affected by pregnancy loss. But maybe you don't know because we don't talk about it.

When we lose loved ones to disease, we raise money for awareness. We shave our heads or grow mustaches for a month. We sport pink ribbons to 'remember'. It's almost fashionable to raise awareness and 'save the boobies'. When we lose loved ones, we extend sympathy...we send cards, flowers, & prepare meals. We go out of our way to let people know we are thinking about them and praying for them. We ask them how they are doing. We even send cards to people whose pets die. We aren't afraid to talk about it, keep pictures around, and grieve openly. But if a baby dies, we act like nothing happened. We ignore it like it never happened. And it baffles me.

Grieving mothers aren't socially allowed to grieve their loss. Instead, there is an unspoken expectation to move on. We pretend like it didn't happen for the sake of someone else, all the while hurting on the inside. Don't believe me? Think I'm making something out of nothing? Ask a mother who has buried a baby...really talk to them and see what's in their heart. I bet I'm not far off from the feelings they carry.

So what happened yesterday at Kroger? It's been a busy week preparing for Thanksgiving, Brody's birthday party, and getting some Christmas shopping completed. As I strolled the aisles I started thinking about all the blessings in my life. I am so thankful for my children. I know many women who've walked the road of fertility struggles & not held a baby of their own. But helping women through Beats for Bristol keeps the reality of child loss ever present. I was thinking about when I was going to take flowers up to Bristol's grave and mentally running through my to-do list. So when the cashier saw my pictures of Brody & Colton in my wallet she brought me back to the moment. Her innocent comment of, "You have such beautiful boys. But I bet you are ready for a little girl." caught me off guard and tears filled my eyes. Her questioning eyes pulled at my heart and I managed to say, "We had one, but she died." As I walked away I let the tears stream down. I know she was caught off guard and felt bad. But I did too.

So there's my soap box. I'm tired of feeling like I need to protect someone else. I'm tired of acting like my pregnancy with Bristol never happened. I'm tired of acting like we never had a baby that died. I'm tired of acting like time makes it ok. The reality is, I'm a new person. My heart was forever changed when we learned Bristol died. And while I am ok & have learned to move forward, I haven't moved on. A piece of my heart has died and I'll never get it back. I don't need a hug & I don't need to talk about it everyday, but I do want to raise awareness of help break the help mothers feel ok to acknowledge their dead baby (there I said it, dead baby)...and to help others learn to respond with grace instead of awkward silence.

Today is Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for? There are not enough words to describe the gratitude in my heart. I am thankful for my family, my children, and the love God bestows upon us. I'm thankful that through Jesus I will have the opportunity to hold Bristol in my arms again. I will have to wait until Heaven, but I'm thankful for that promise....I'm thankful that goodbye, didn't have to be goodbye forever.

As we launch into this holiday season, I hope that you will keep in mind the grieving mother. Perhaps you know a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who has experienced the loss of a baby. I pray that you will keep her in your prayers. She may only hang two stockings instead of three. She may have a closet of gifts that will go unopened. She may have anticipated 'baby's first Christmas' that won't happen. She may wear a smile for the sake of someone else. But know that she may be hurting.

She may be thankful for many things, but there is also a part of her that is a little sad.

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