From time to time I hear news of another stillbirth. Last week, such news came to me as a sudden reminder of my own journey of the loss of my baby, Ben. Although Ben died nearly eighteen years ago, I felt strongly the urge to write this and share my own experience of having a baby die. I can’t know what any other parent goes through when this happens to them, and I know that for me when I met a mother who had also experienced what I had there was a strange kind of bond.
For me there were so many overwhelming feelings. I remember the unsurpassable grief, and it seemed like I was facing a mountain with no way up. I remember wondering how can I ever survive the anguish? How can I bear the depth of loss of my sweet baby? Why should I have to get up this mountain, instead of experiencing all the hopes, all the dreams, all the expectation inherent in the anticipation of a new birth. Instead of joy there were waves of tears and oceans of longing. I was a mother bereft of the chance to feed and nourish my baby at my breast.
And there was deep peace. Radical acceptance, an inner knowing that somewhere somehow everything was okay.
Then there was anger too. Anger at God, at life, at the unfairness of it all. I had endless questions. How dare my baby be taken from me? Was there something wrong with me? Why has this happened? Why did he go? Why? Why? Why? There were so many whys, but no answers. There may have been a thousand reasons that showed up as to why, but even today I live with that question unanswered, why did Ben die? I continue to live with the mystery of that experience. There are no answers there are no solutions to the grief either. I would hear platitudes like ‘time heals all wounds’ and people would offer me their take on what would help. Occasionally it would ease some pain and sometimes it didn’t, but there was no solution to the grief and in the end it has been a journey of befriending the grief itself that helped me.
And for me in the grief there remained a wide open heart of love – that huge mother’s love that only a mother can feel (and my husband felt the same magnitude of a father’s love too). When a baby dies there remains two parents with empty arms and a huge gaping hole in the universe, a hole that the baby has slipped into. And strangely I still felt in a sense that when Ben died, I was born. I was still a new mother, sadly a mother without child, I had given birth to my boy in spirit, I had also given birth to this grief and pain, and also to tenderness and this oceanic love, a love that somehow couldn’t be contained in something so small as a baby’s body.
I think it’s timely that I write this at Easter, a time when the world celebrates the resurrection of a lost love. With stillbirth, as with the resurrection, there is a real sense of life meeting death. A life cut short is like a huge downward slit crossing the horizontal line of time, a cross that is perhaps aptly symbolized by the Christian cross. With stillbirth, though there is such grief, tragedy and suffering, there is still hope. I survived and many parents do. It’s hard to imagine how when your heart is broken into a thousand tiny fragments, and your soul cries mournfully into the night.
So to the young couple I know who just lost their baby and to any other parents who are suffering from the loss of a child I just say let your love guide you, if the anger comes, let it rage, let yourself demand answers and fall on your knees in sorrow when no answers come that make any sense. Feel the enormous pain, and know that somehow, somewhere, love carries you. Somehow, somewhere there is an acceptance within you for this and somehow, somewhere there is a light that starts to shine through the crack of your broken heart.
I want to close by saying that it is my belief that life doesn’t don’t do this to hurt us, although we feel immeasurable hurt, the death of a baby can shape us, and not just the parents – but everyone who is connected to that loss. A baby dying leaves a legacy that can shape our hearts for the better. My whole interest in parenting and desire to raise my two children born after Ben with conscious awareness and unconditional love came from his death. I know my heart was so broken and now is so much bigger, its amazing how much love there is to feel. Stillbirth is both a tragedy and yet still a radical birth. Stillbirth describes how in that moment there is death yet there is still birth in an infinite number of other ways.