By: Christina Rearick
How could anyone experience anything but joy when a new baby is born into their family? The answer is quite simple, when they have endured the loss of such a tiny and most precious life.
Years ago, when I lost my very first baby to polycystic ovarian syndrome, my entire world seemed to contain pregnant women at every turn. Baby shower invitations seemed to arrive weekly, and my pregnant best friend avoided me because I made her uncomfortable.
I subsequently was blessed with two wonderful healthy children, but I was always cognizant of that feeling of isolation when my children and I were around women trying to conceive. I lost a second baby shortly after my new sister-in-law lost her first pregnancy. I was hoping that my experiences would be of some help to her, but she withdrew into depression, my children probably making her emptiness feel bigger.
When I was blessed, shortly afterward, with another chance at life, I was very aware of the feelings my sister-in-law must be battling. I knew just being at the same family events would be awkward for both of us. So, I was elated when she herself became pregnant a month later. How exciting to have cousins a month apart! Due to our shared infertility disorders and the scarring effects of losing our children, we were both very nervous and full of trepidation in the first trimester. When I passed the twelve week point, I was elated to enjoy being pregnant, yet was still worried for my sister-in-law. We went to the same doctor and on the day of her eleven week check-up, we went together because we had back-to-back appointments. We planned to go to lunch afterward to celebrate her passing safely into the second trimester. Little did I suspect that while we sat in the waiting room gleefully chatting about our pregnancies and enjoying our new-found sisterhood, that our relationship was about to take a drastic turn.
At this point in my story, you might imagine that my sister-in-law lost her baby. No, the stark reality of my unsuspected loss at sixteen weeks came crashing in with the words, “I can’t find a heartbeat, I’m sorry.” My sister-in-law was sent home while I spent hours sobbing in my doctor’s office. Early in the grieving process, I moaned, “How can I witness my sister-in-law’s life growing inside while mine has been ripped away? How can I watch her son grow up, seeing my son in everything he does? How can I watch the rest of my family joyfully await his arrival and then fawn over him at every family gathering?”
My sister-in-law was sent home while I spent hours sobbing in my doctor’s office. Early in the grieving process, I moaned, “How can I witness my sister-in-law’s life growing inside while mine has been ripped away?
Those of us who have endured this heart-wrenching experience know that family members can say careless and hurtful things in an attempt to “fix” our pain. I expected my sister-in-law to be no different. However, after two weeks of not calling me for fear that I might actually answer the phone, she put aside that fear and reached out to me.
We spent an hour on the phone crying about both of our losses (in my self-centered pain, I had failed to realize she was still grieving her first child), and a special sister bond had been formed. My most treasured memory of my son Michael is the poem (composed by Mommy) and ultrasound pictures that we arranged and framed together; it truly was a labor of love and tears.
My sister-in-law’s bold and courageous first move had saved and even strengthened our relationship.
She truly understood and acknowledged my loss, and I was able to include myself in family gatherings, except for one…the baby shower. As my sister-in-law was new to the area and didn’t know many people, she really wanted me to share in her day but understood if I could not. Then a wonderful solution happened: I became pregnant again. I rejoiced at both the miracle and the escape from the awkwardness. As long as I knew life was growing inside me, I was able to withstand the painful memories and the expected arrival of my nephew. I was thankfully enabled to be truly joyful with my sister-in-law. But once again, the vision of cousins happily playing together was shattered. Two weeks before the shower, I lost baby Sarah and decided that would be my final attempt at one last child. Needless to say, my absence was acutely noted at the shower.
While my sister-in-law has been arranging the nursery, I have been packing mine away. Some things have gone to charity, some have gone to my expected nephew. While I was reading my Share newsletter about surviving the holidays without our babies, my nephew Liam was born. Once again, I asked, “How can anyone feel anything but joy when a new baby is born into their family?” I was relieved to hear that all was well with mom and baby, yet I felt of twinge of pain listening to my husband talk gleefully to his brother on the phone. I did not detect one ounce of sadness in his voice. That night, I slept in the maternity shirt I wore the day my son was taken from me in the hospital; I silently cried myself to sleep. The next day, I sat huddled on the floor of the shower, letting the water run down my face; I tasted salt and realized that much of the water was made of tears. I lost all composure and remembered sitting in that same spot in the shower the day I lost my son. I felt ashamed for not being joyous; I felt angry for not being able to share my sister-in-law’s joy. And I most definitely felt the great void of someone missing. I prayed to the Lord for mercy and compassion, for courage and strength.
I felt ashamed for not being joyous; I felt angry for not being able to share my sister-in-law’s joy. And I most definitely felt the great void of someone missing.
I changed my mind twenty times that day trying to decide whether or not I should visit the baby in the hospital or wait one week for our families to gather at our house for Thanksgiving. There was no doubt that seeing that precious little life would break my heart, but I decided to go to the hospital. I wanted the experience to be as private as possible, not with fifteen pairs of eyes staring at me, wondering how I would react. My sister-in-law asked if I wanted to hold Liam, and I surprised myself by saying, “Yes!” He felt so warm and had that smell I that I remembered oh so well. As I gently stroked his little toes, my three year old son bluntly said, “Mommy’s babies died.” I felt the warm tears well up, and I looked into my sister-in-law’s eyes. My little boy, in his innocence, had said what no one else had the courage to say. He acknowledged the life that was lost as real, not forgotten. I saw the compassion in my sister-in-law’s eyes, and at that moment of silent exchange, I realized I would be able to survive. God had used my little boy as a tool to start the healing process for all of us, and with His grace, the journey towards peace began.
I saw the compassion in my sister-in-law’s eyes, and at that moment of silent exchange, I realized I would be able to survive.