Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Vital Importance of Grief

epiphany: (noun)
: a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
I was sitting in a session at the MISS Foundation conference last week when I started to think about the miscarriage I had before I had Toren. In August 2010, we had our first OB appointment when I was 17 weeks pregnant. No heartbeat could be found, so we were sent to the hospital for an ultrasound which confirmed the dreadful news. I can't bear to think about the details of that right now. The thing I was focusing on in the session at the conference was the fact that I didn't grieve that loss. I've always known that on a rational level, but until now, I didn't realize what it really meant. As I know now, it has had enormous repercussions. 

The following May, I was pregnant with Toren. It was an incredibly difficult pregnancy. I was physically sick, but that wasn't it. I couldn't figure it out. I started therapy because I felt it was impacting my parenting of my daughter. I didn't want to talk about my pregnancy. Whenever anyone mentioned it, I would shut the conversation down. I kept thinking it was "hormones", whatever the hell that means. It got to the point where friends were saying to my belly, "We love you, baby!" because they thought I didn't love him. thought I didn't love him. Up until that moment in the session last week, I still secretly thought I didn't really love him. During my pregnancy, I would sneak into the bathroom to cry and to try to figure out why I was so unhappy. And to try to manage the guilt. I would picture telling people he had died.

I want to pause here to explain the term "rainbow baby". In the stillbirth world, a rainbow baby is the baby you have after your loss. I held a friend's rainbow baby this summer and felt incredible joy. I can't even really look at other babies since Toren died, but I could have held this one forever. I found the following explanation on babycentre (who knew that pregnancy site had a grief section?? Not me!). I wish I could credit the person who wrote it. 
"Rainbow Babies" is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn't mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy and hope.
When someone  has a baby who is born still, there is a lot of focus on the rainbow baby. Everyone wants to jump ahead to the next baby, maybe because it's too hard to think about the one who has died. For babyloss parents, this focus on the rainbow baby can be incredibly frustrating. Even if they themselves are trying again, they worry that a new baby will mean the one who died is forgotten and they are left alone in their grief while trying to appear, and be, happy for the new baby. I don't know who invented the word mindf*ck but it definitely applies here!

So as I sat in that session last week sorting through the threads of all these thoughts, one thread started to be teased out. And it was this:

Toren was our rainbow baby. And our rainbow baby died.

Two feelings have crawled out of the bubbling pit of emotions that this realization has uncovered for me: Relief - my pregnancy with Toren, and everything that has happened since, now makes sense to me. Defeat - rainbow babies die.

The baby I had before Toren was a little girl. When she died, everyone was compassionate, but they said, "You will try again." and "You will have another one." I'm not blaming anyone. If you said this to me, do not fret. It is the culture we live in. But the message we unwittingly send when we are not truly mindful of what we say is - do not grieve. Move on. Forget. 

Since January 6, I feel like I know almost nothing. Since last week, the almost is in severe jeopardy. I can't help wondering, if I had grieved her properly, acknowledged her place in my heart and in our lives, how would my grief for Toren be different? Could I have bonded more with him during the pregnancy? Bonding is crucial to grieving. Grieving is crucial to healthy living. Would I have been able to look at him, to hold him? To not abandon him? Would the shock have been more manageable? Could I have made up for gaps in our care? A friend from Sands NZ told me, "When we know better, we do better." I wish I had known better.

On the last day of the conference, at the memorial service, I was finally able to acknowledge the daughter we lost before we lost Toren. It was incredibly painful but it felt right. She was named that night, but I can't share her yet. I feel so fiercely protective of her. If we had not had her, and lost her, we would not have had Toren. I'm still putting all the pieces together. Over time, more of the picture will emerge. I'm frightened. It's ok.

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