By: Kayla Leibner
It’s no secret that it can be difficult to return to a state of normalcy after a life-altering event. Adjusting to and recovering from big changes takes time – and sometimes a lot of it. When you lose a child, returning to normal isn’t really an option. Life never looks the same, and things don’t fit back together the way they did before.
When I was pregnant with Melody I was working with a lovely group of people within the local school district as a substitute teacher. I really enjoyed my job and loved the people I worked with. We always helped each other out and relied on one another – like a big teacher family. In August of 2017 I was about 27 weeks pregnant when I attended the substitute teacher orientation for that school year. It was wonderful to see all my friends, and I received many excited words of encouragement about my pregnancy. I wasn’t due until the end of October, so I planned on subbing until then.
Little did I know that I would end up being admitted to the hospital just a few weeks later after learning about my unborn daughter’s diagnosis. Upon my hospitalization I reached out via email to the director of the education staffing company I was employed through to explain my situation, to which she replied with great support and understanding. Even then, I was hopeful that I would return to work at some point after Melody was well. I never let myself consider the alternate.
Three short days after being admitted to the hospital our sweet girl was born by emergency cesarean. She lived an hour and a half, but her body couldn’t win the battle against her condition. After I was discharged, I remember sitting at home trying to imagine my life going back to normal after losing part of myself in her death. I simply couldn’t picture it. Normal no longer existed.
During these musings I thought about what it would be like to return to my job, working at six different elementary schools among hundreds of people who knew me and knew that I was expecting.
Just the thought of explaining and retelling our story repeatedly brought me so much pain that I simply could not do it. I was already in so much agony. I didn’t think I could take any more. I didn’t think I could survive being asked repeatedly, “How is the baby?” or being given the unknowing “Congratulations!” about her birth.
I felt sick at the thought of having to explain what had happened and having to relive her death over and over again.
I didn’t go back. I couldn’t. It wasn’t even an option. Let alone the more than daunting idea of explaining what had happened, I was in no state of mind to care for classrooms full of children. There was also a feeling that I simply couldn’t name – couldn’t put my finger on. Once again, I reached out to the director of the education staffing company and explained what had happened and that I just couldn’t bring myself to face everyone. She was more than understanding and also very sympathetic to our loss.
Eventually I did get another job, and the routine and busy schedule seemed to help me along my journey of healing. We found out we were pregnant a few months after I started my new job. My boss knew my history and was kind and gracious when it came to my worries and the time off I needed for extra medical appointments. At almost 12 weeks, we lost Jamie through a traumatic miscarriage. I found myself again in a place of weighing my options about returning to work. That unnamable feeling resurfaced as I contemplated what I would do during the week of my leave from work following our loss.
As I hesitantly returned to work, I felt like an outsider.
On my first day back, I felt horribly out of place and awkward. It felt like I was watching a reality show from far away, and like everyone was supposed to avoid eye contact with the camera… and I was the camera. That unnamed feeling from before drenched me to the core.
Shame. The feeling that was now woven into the very fabric of my being was shame. I felt it in the deepest parts of my soul. How could I face my boss and my coworkers after having lost yet another baby? Why couldn’t my body do this the right way? What would they think? So many shaming thoughts and guilty feelings whirled around in my mind creating a cocktail of emotional baggage that I didn’t know how to deal with, but I couldn’t leave another job. I had to face those feelings and learn how to work through them.
Later I discovered that my boss, in a misguided attempt to protect me from any further pain, had informed my co-workers of what had happened and told them that under no circumstances were they to speak of it or ask me any questions. After I had learned this, it took some time for me to digest my situation and finally let people know that they could talk to me or ask me things. I was blunt in telling them that it made me feel hurt and lonely to be avoided and for people to act as if my children didn’t exist.
Looking back on it, I can see how my boss was trying to help me make it through that first difficult step back into my old life, but at the time I was hurt – and furious. I’ve had time to grow and gain insight about other people since then, and I now realize that people who aren’t like me – those who aren’t grieving the loss of a child – can’t possibly understand exactly how complex and difficult it is.
They can’t know that it hurts even more when people pretend that your very heart hasn’t been ripped from your chest and smashed into pieces.
I’ve had two very different experiences with the choice of returning to work, neither of which I regret. I learned from each situation, and because of that I have been able to grow. I don’t believe there is any right or wrong answer about returning to work after you lose your child, and it is so difficult to be prepared for what you may encounter on your first day back. Your coworkers may welcome you back with love and support beyond what you could imagine, or they may be unsure of how to react and just try to provide you with your pre-loss normal by not speaking of your loss. Just know that in any case, it is more than okay to tell people what you need.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mom, and an educator. Faith and spiritual health are a top priority for her and also for her family. She strives to cultivate a supportive and spiritually uplifting atmosphere for her children at home. Until the summer of 2020, Kayla was an early childhood educator, but she lost her job due to the Covid-19 pandemic when her school was forced to close. The loss of her job turned out to be an unexpected blessing when she and her husband realized that she would be able to be at home with their oldest children as they completed school virtually.
Kayla and her husband have known one another for sixteen years, have been together for eight years, and have been married for seven years. They have four children together. Jace and Kiley are their older children. Melody and Jamie are their younger children – and also their angel babies.
Kayla and her family have been on their journey of grief since August 2017 when Melody died shortly after birth, due to complications of a CHD. Jamie was lost in May 2018 when Kayla suffered a miscarriage. Their family has worked together and relied heavily on God for guidance and support through their losses.
Kayla enjoys music (writing, singing, and playing instruments), art (sketching, drawing, and coloring for stress relief), and writing in her free time. She began writing for Sharing Magazine in 2019, and she feels so blessed to be able to contribute to such an amazing platform in honor of her babies. She hopes that her articles are able to provide support and comfort to families who read them.