Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Month

The milestones do not go unnoticed, even though Livia and Lucy aren't here on earth to celebrate with.

Today it's been one month since I gave birth to my tiny, perfect twin daughters. For other mamas, one month is celebrated with pictures on Facebook, exclamations of "I can't believe it's been a month already!" or "Look at how big she's getting!"




Well, I can't believe it's been a month already either. But my sweet ones aren't here to measure. In my memories, Livia will always be one pound, and Lucy will be thirteen ounces. Their hands and feet will always be so tiny that my engagement and wedding rings could fit around their wrists and ankles. They will always be even smaller than the little stuffed bears which my dear friend brought to the hospital for them. For me, one month is celebrated by bouquets a sweet friend brought me– with roses in the bouquet for Livia Rose– and talking about their birth, and remembering.

What has surprised my friends to learn is that giving birth to my stillborn daughters was not a horrible or traumatic experience. Eyes have widened as I've tried to express just how much I love remembering my labor and their birth– how beautiful it was, not just in retrospect, but at the time– and how, if I could, I would go back and do it over again in a heartbeat. I can see the puzzled "why?" in peoples' expressions even though they don't give it voice, and I try to explain: giving birth to my girls was the only thing we were ever able to do together as a family. My husband was there, my rock of unrelenting, tender support and love. And together with my mom and sister, we spent the long hours laughing, weeping, breathing through contractions, and giving our girls the best gift we could– a gentle, patient, loving birth.

Because we are a family, and during those hours of labor and birth, we were a family in some way still whole, even though the souls of our sweet girls were already in Heaven. We still got to see our girls, to hold them and cherish them and cry over them. For me, the trauma didn't begin until I had to say goodbye to Livia and Lucy's bodies, the bodies I had carried for twenty-three weeks, the bodies my own body had grown and nurtured.

So yes, I remember, and honor, and celebrate the birth of my daughters. I cherish the remembrance of every detail: the compassionate care of our doctor and nurses; how we all giggled about Nate and my sister Emily and my mother all taking turns napping on the hospital bed (since bed was the last place I wanted to be); how I read the last chapter of The Horse and His Boy out loud at a lickety-split pace because the contractions were intensifying and I wanted to finish the book before they got any worse; how we joked about sabotaging the contraction monitor just to freak the paranoid doctor out; how our wonderful, kind doctor (not the paranoid doctor) called Livia and Lucy by name as I was pushing; how our last nurse had tears in her eyes as she hugged us goodbye; how lightly and easily the girls both rested in my arms after they'd been tenderly wrapped in tiny blankets. How I sobbed over their stillness and quietness. How our photographer smiled at them and called them, "Ladies," as she gently arranged them to take their pictures.

There's something about their birth date, June 24. It's three days before their daddy's June birthday. And I was born on the 24th of September. It is a good birth date for our girls: a little gift from God to bring them even closer, to remind us that they will always be ours.

Nate and I say it often to each other: Livia and Lucy are still our sweet, precious daughters. We are still a family of four.




We are simply separated for a time, and while we wait for reunion, we will remember.






Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Not To Say

She has picture-perfect makeup: magazine cover quality
Her atmosphere is self-assurance and confidence
I don’t know her very well.
Moving briskly to me, saying my name
I am awkward, stiff in her hug
I am that roly-poly beetle, wanting to curl
into a ball, protect myself.
My life is an exposed nerve
silently pleading for the gentlest touch.


She looks at me and matter-of-factly
tramples the wreckage of an already splintered heart
like a hammer coming down on a fractured bone:
"It will be fine. Everything will be fine."

I forget to breathe

bewildered by the well-meaning shattering of it all.

What will be fine?
That my little ones I carried
who nestled and danced beneath my heart
are gone?
That I am a mother who held her babies once, twice–
and never again?
Is fine the Mecca for the grief-stricken?
The Nirvana for the heart-broken?
Is fine what we are to aspire to?

I back away from this lady
who thought she was reassuring
thought to make me feel better
and raked the salt of her confidence into my wounds.

I mumble something I can’t remember later.

My heart wails, snarls–
I am a grizzly mama
with nothing but the memory of my cubs
to protect
to guard
to cherish.

I will never be fine.
I will mourn.
I will cry again and again and 
again.
I will feel empty.
I will learn how to live with the pain
with missing my babies
the hurting and the missing woven into daily life
side by side with joy and peace.
But fine does not exist in this life after their death
I will never be fine.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Borrowed Prayers

I am borrowing prayers.

Right now, prayer is hard. I have had lots of times in my life when prayer has been hard but not like now. When we found out we were having twins, my often-breathed prayers for the health and safety of my babies doubled. Lord, let them be healthy. Keep them safe. When we learned that the babies were our Livia and Lucy, and that their lives were in danger, I learned for the first time in my life what it means to "pray without ceasing." All throughout those three long, difficult days my heart was praying even when my lips were silent. When the doctor in Texas gently told me that our girls had died, the first thing out of my mouth was an involuntary, "Oh, God, no!" It wasn't profanity. It was the anguished cry of my heart before the Lord, pleading for a different outcome than what we'd just been given. That night Nate and I held each other close and listened on the speaker phone as our pastor and his wife prayed with us. My body was already contracting, and at that point all I wanted was to get to Colorado so I could deliver our girls someplace familiar, and with my older sister there. Let me get to Colorado, please, God, was my silent cry through that long night as I moved about the hotel room, exhausted but unable to sleep because of the contractions that came every hour. And then, in Colorado, in a hospital room three days later, with those contractions now coming so strong and on-top of each other that I had only seconds to rally between each one, I clenched Nate's hand and breathed into the pillows, please Jesus, let my water break! Let this be almost over! 

It was almost over. My water did break. Our beautiful daughters were born soon after, and I held them as we all cried.

And my prayers stopped.

Because I had begged God to keep my girls safe, but His definition of safe– safe in His arms, not mine– was not what I wanted. Is still not what I want. And I didn't know what to say. Three and a half weeks later, and most of the time I still don't. For days after returning home to Sumter, I was angry. I knew if I tried to pray, it would turn into lashing out. Accusations. Bitter questions that would get no answer. Why, God?!

I think the anger is over now... perhaps it will return periodically. Perhaps it won't. I'm new to this wilderness land of grief, a country where it feels as if anything is possible, where days start out in sunshine and end in hurricanes, and where peaceful sunsets follow tornadoes. There seems to be only one certainty– Jesus is Lord of this land, too.

And with that certainty, there is comfort, even when it comes to not being able to pray. Somehow, He knows– He understands this stumbling path, and He is patient. I found it strange that even in those moments when I have doubted His goodness, I never doubted His patience with me in my doubt. That's why I've been borrowing prayers. I believe He understands my lack, my inability to use my own words, and He's sending me the words of others to fill my need.

I won't put them all up at once– I'll post them over time. If you are reading this because you are grieving for Livia and Lucy too, or if you are grieving for any other reason, I hope that they speak to you as they have to me, and that in turn you can speak them back to God.

This one came today, unexpectedly. Our pastor asked me if I can play piano for church Sunday after next, so I started looking through my music to pick out an offertory. I played through a few pieces and then, because it was in the same book, through an arrangement of "Be Still My Soul." I wasn't planning on choosing that piece, but when I was done it occurred to me that I didn't know any of the words, so I got online to look them up. When I read them, it was clear to me that this is my offertory, and even clearer that this is a prayer for me and for my heart.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below. 

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away. 

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last. 

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.


Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay/From His own fullness all He takes away

I don't know why He chose to take away. And I don't know how even His fullness, His goodness, can repay what we've lost. But I don't have to know how or why to pray it, again and again, until I learn how to trust it, and believe it, and cling to it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Evening

When evening draws in
So does the ache for what might have been
The day's busyness dwindles
And the ghosts of passed hopes are vivid
realer than reality
What is missing is what I see.

Where are the curly heads
Where are the tiny dresses
Where is the stillness of sleeping babes against my breasts
Barren breasts now whose milk I had to stifle,
to strangle out of existence.

The day fades and I ache
For what should have been
For a world where little ones aren't lost
and a new mama isn't left to spend each night
cuddling close two little teddies
which bear the memory of her daughters' hands.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Invisible Mama

This is what it's like to be a first-time mother of stillborn twin girls–

You carry your motherhood invisibly. It is the secret you wish everybody knew, but don't have the strength to tell. Strangers on the street won't recognize your identity. People you meet will never know you are a mother unless you tell them.


At night you will cuddle the two little bears that are the only objects you have that your daughters ever touched– you will clutch them close to your breasts and ache for the feel of warm soft baby skin nestling there.


You will think constantly about their birth. It is the only gift you were able to give them.

You will weep for every minute you didn't hold them during those short hours with them. You will remember your fear of how fragile they were, the fear of hurting them– and you will yearn for the chance to hold them again anyway, to touch them again, to be with them again. To marvel at their tiny perfection.



Being a mama but not being able to mother your babies is a kind of daily dying– you will wake up every morning with a longing that will go unfulfilled.

You will feel dismay at how quickly your body seems to forget, and you will stroke the soft place in your tummy where your skin stretched to hold your little girls close, remembering the feeling of being so taut and bursting with life. You will never be able to hear the phrase "get your body back after pregnancy" without cringing inside: you long for more scars to carry– more lasting signs of the lives that grew within you.

You will notice when people speak of your babies by their names, and you are grateful. Your girls are not your "Loss". They are your daughters.

The idea of somehow returning to "normal" will be utterly foreign– there is no return, no going back.
The sharpness will soften with time, perhaps, but you know the pain will never disappear this side of Heaven.

The love you have for your girls only grows stronger.


The rest of forever has been changed by the two little girls you carried in your body– and you will carry them the rest of forever in your heart.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Weeping

I have learned a different kind of weeping these last two weeks.




I have learned the broken cry of empty, longing arms, of a shattered heart
The moan of aching, leaking breasts
The keening wail of motherhood deprived.




My husband tells me he will never forget the way I cried when I lay on the ultrasound bed, sixteen short days ago, and I know I will never forget the quiet voice of the Iranian doctor who answered my frightened query with a gentle no– the no that broke us and left us sobbing. And we wept with every parent in the world who has ever lost a child, and we wept our own unique tears for our two unique little girls, Lucy and Livia.




The crying goes on long after the sobs subside and the tears cease, long after the breasts dry up and the belly shrinks, long after all that there is to be done is done and you are left with... nothing left to do. The weeping continues, your heart bleeding out your love and hurt. My girls are safe in the arms of God but I am walking the valley of the shadow of dead dreams.




I wonder if you get used to feeling empty.

And I weep.