"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’" - Mary Anne Radmacher
On Sunday, most of us are going to be spoiled in some fashion by our children who will shower us with hand-made cards and breakfast in bed as we celebrate Mother’s Day. There are mothers among us who will find this holiday incredibly difficult, mothers we know and love who bear a pain so profound that it will be carried through their lifetimes, and for them I am writing this post. On Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the inspiring courage of the bereaved mother.
This week, I’ve been thinking of my friends Natalie and Mike. They are a young couple, recently engaged. They’re smart, athletic, funny, warm, talented, good-looking, and healthy. There are so many more attributes to describe these wonderful people, but the one quality I most want to share with you is their bravery. In early September, at seven months pregnant, our friends lost their little baby, a son they named Aemon. Our circle felt the incredible ripple of this devastating loss, and I have been humbled and inspired at how Mike and Nat have wrapped themselves in a cloak of love and moved forward, one step at a time, through their grief.
I can’t imagine how losing a child could feel. In fact, the idea of such sorrow afflicting anyone I know or love has been so terrifying, that sometimes when I talk to Nat or Mike, I don’t really know what to say. In those moments, I say; “I love you.” Those words are the most important ones, I think.
Yesterday Mike, who is the more seasoned writer of the two, (Nat is a dancer and aerialist and tells her stories with her body) posted an incredible letter on his Facebook timeline. I asked him if I could share it with you, and he graciously permitted me to post. Below Mike’s letter are some resources for parents who are grieving. Nat and Mike both wanted me to make these available to you and anyone you know who might benefit. Please don’t be afraid to share, and please do take the time to explore these resources if you have a friend or relative who has experienced infant death. You will learn so much about how you can help.
I want to share an important story that I feel I’ve been keeping off of Facebook for much too long. For the last several months I haven’t felt the strength to share this very personal story online with essentially everyone I know, but I feel that by not sharing the story I’m hiding a major part of myself, and I don’t want to do that anymore.
Last August I shared an image hinting that my darling love Natalie and I were expecting our first child, due in late October. Just a few weeks after sharing that photo, we found out that our baby had passed away. At dusk on Friday, September 6th Natalie gave birth to our beautiful son, Aemon. We won’t ever know why he wasn’t able to stay with us. He was perfect in every way, except that his heart had stopped beating.
Of course the loss was the most shocking and devastating thing we’ve ever experienced. For the last several months it’s been the love and support of the people closest to us that has sustained us, yet I’ve been reluctant to talk about our experience with people outside that close circle. I'm over that reluctance.
A meet-up with an old friend this week reminded me how hard we find it to talk about death, or rather how much easier it seems to be not to talk about it. This is much more the case when the person who left us is a baby that barely anyone ever got to physically interact with. I imagine that someone hearing about our kind of loss understands that it must be very severe and weighty, but also finds it kind of intangible. I imagine that that must be very disorienting, which might help explain why discussion of infant death is one of the gigantic taboos we live with - and a very alienating one. People carefully seek to protect our feelings and prevent us further pain, but for the record I want to point out that that effort is misdirected.
Most bereaved parents will tell you that no amount of discussion about their loss and their baby will make them feel worse. On the contrary, Natalie and I love talking about Aemon. Our love and our memories of him are all that we have left, and it brings us great joy to share them. My boy had big feet and a head of thick dark hair like me. Before he left us he liked to bug his mother, like me. If you'd like to know more, I would be happy to tell you.
This weekend as we all celebrate mothers and the magic of their love, please take a minute to think of the countless women who do not have a child to hold in their arms but who still hold that same bottomless love in their hearts. And while I have your attention: do be good to one another. Everyone really is fighting a hard battle, and all life really is a miracle.
Thanks for reading.
Some resources that Natalie and Mike wanted to share:
“There is no Footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world”
PAIL Network is a registered Canadian charity committed to making a positive difference to those affected by pregnancy and infant loss. This incredible service has a wide-ranging network, mostly powered by women who have lost children of their own. This is an incredible resource linking to medical care, support groups, and a wealth of other valuable information for parents who are grieving the loss of a baby.
Their website is a bit dated and clinical, but this is a comprehensive resource for families who are grieving the loss of any family member. There are additional tools for families who have had to deal with completed suicide, sudden violent loss, and for children who are dealing with grief.
Carly Marie, Project Heal
“A mother is not defined by the number of children you can see, but by the love that she holds in her heart.” - Franchesca Cox
This incredible blog, and virtual art experience was created by a mother who experienced the stillbirth of her son and went on to create this beautiful place of hope and healing. My words can’t do this justice, I encourage all of you to visit and experience this site.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
My friends learned of this incredible initiative only after they left the hospital, so I want to spread the word because I was deeply moved by what this organization is doing. NILMDTS is a volunteer collective of professional photographers with a wide network who will visit the hospital and take portraits of your baby so you have a keepsake of your beautiful child. They even have resources on their site for medical professionals, with instructions on posing and lighting, in case they aren't able to send a photographer to your location. Friends and loved ones, I hope you never have to remember that this service exists, but if anyone you love is experiencing still birth, please make them aware of this incredible resource. Many parents can't bear the idea of a photo in the moment, but nearly all of them are grateful to have captured the memory in hindsight. These beautiful portraits often go on to occupy the space they deserve beside photos of other family members and loved ones. Photographer friends, there is no greater work that you can do.
GAPPS – The Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, an initiative from Seattle Children's Hospital produced this beautiful video:
Return To Zero
This feature length film starring Minnie Driver is due to be released on the Lifetime Network in Canada on May 17th. The star-studded cast features the likes of Alfred Molina and Kathy Baker and centers on the story of a successful couple who lose their first baby to stillbirth, on of the first times this subject is explored in popular media.
Mothers, and fathers, who have loved so deeply and felt such profound loss, know that our hearts and our hopes are with you on Mother's Day and every day. I for one, am happy and honoured to listen whenever you want to share stories of your beautiful children.