By: Nora LaFata
My first Mother’s Day was as it should be. Breakfast in bed and fingerprint flowers. All of my problems, diluted with brunch. All of my children, alive.
I’ve had exactly three Mother’s Days like this, and I will never have another.
In late February 2014, my daughter died. She died on a remarkably sunny afternoon, as birds sang outside. She died inside of me, in what many consider to be the safest possible place. Abruptly. Unexpectedly. Forever. One day I was a mom who loved birdsong, and the next day I wasn’t.
We joke about trauma. As a society, we are “traumatized” by embarrassing parents, scary movies, Organic Chem 2. By definition, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience and thus for a fortunate few, these examples may actually apply. But I’ve learned that real trauma, the visceral, glandular kind that leaves you tachycardic in the produce aisle, is no laughing matter.
To lose a child is like nothing else.
You can hug me and sit beside me (thank you!). You can try to imagine on a bad day. You can read every word and still, you have no idea. I’ve tried (and tried) to find the words over the years, but everything I’ve ever written scratches the surface of the surface (of the surface): What it’s like to harbor death, ever so briefly. What the room sounds like when you deliver a five-pound baby who will never take a breath. How it felt to drive to the park with a velvet box, to watch her ashes merge with the dirt. What it’s like to partake afterwards, in conversations about traffic jams and barbeque weather and low toner.
The reality is that one cannot describe such atrocities, she can only endure them.
Many times, this isn’t pretty. It’s been five years and I still hyperventilate around baby girls. But wait, you say, what about YOUR daughter? Your nieces? Your goddaughter? Your friend’s twins? The new neighbor down the street or the complete stranger with the double stroller? Sadly, these encounters are still hard. To those who say this shouldn’t be the case, I say lucky you: you don’t know trauma. And while those close to me have claimed to empathize, many have scoffed and projected and disappeared. They’ve grown angry at unrequited text messages and Instagram space. They’ve appointed themselves experts in the “how things should be handled” arena when the reality is, they’ve never had to enter it.
While this is disappointing (and frustrating and isolating), I wouldn’t want them to understand, because I would not wish this on my worst enemy. Which begs the question: What would I wish on my worst enemy? And I don’t know, but not stillbirth.
Here is what I would ask of them, of everyone: This Mother’s Day. This Christmas. This Tuesday. It’s actually pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy).
Sit with us. Listen and nod. Offer shoulders and coffee and flowers. Bear witness. Validate. Stay.
We’re trying our best, and we deserve yours.
About Nora Lafata
Nora is a Biology teacher from St. Louis, Missouri. She has four children, one of whom (Josephine) passed away in 2014 at 35 weeks. Nora writes about life after losing her athttps://noralafata.blogspot.com/