A Mother’s Remembrance

dragonfly (small) 2013-10-01 at 9.16.29 AMFor months before she was even conceived, I had wanted Alex in my life. I dreamed of her with smooth, soft skin, full dark hair and big eyes framed with long lashes. In my mind, I could see myself holding her, feeding her, watching her make milestones – smiling, sitting up, taking those first steps. But the months went by without any indication of her arrival until July 25th, 2011.

My partner and I were driving in the car to our new apartment when I felt something within me change. (Since then, I’ve learned that other mothers have experienced this as well.) I was struck with an awareness that it was no longer just me inside my body – there was now someone else present too. I looked over at her father and told him that we were expecting. While I had been highly hopeful through each cycle prior, they were still mere hopes. This was different. I physically felt the change coursing through my body. It was only a matter of days until I knew her name with certainty.

Eagerly, I took a pregnancy test every couple of days. And even though each time it came back negative, my conviction of what was happening in my body never wavered. Everything felt new to me. Every breath, I knew, was bringing life-sustaining air into both my body and the fast-developing body of my little one. I had a heightened consciousness of the food and drink I was putting into my body – because this food was helping to build a new human. When I walked, I felt a slight heaviness between my hips and knew that I was strengthening the muscles I would need to help bring her into this world. I was even more aware of my emotions, knowing that the psychological wellness of a mother can affect her unborn child.

In mid-August, a test finally read positive – giving me proof to show the outside world what I was experiencing. I took a picture of the pregnancy test and took the first weekly picture of my belly.

While I had intended to keep the news between me and my partner until later in the pregnancy, I went into work that evening with a smile on my face ten miles wide. When someone asked me what was going on, I found it physically impossible to keep the happy news to myself. Word made it around the workplace quickly – and being that I worked with many parents, I was soon offered much-welcome advice, words of support, and even maternity clothes. I shared the news with a close friend and she gave me a heart-felt congratulations, assuring me with her confidence that I would make an excellent mother. I felt so incredibly blessed – not only because of the pregnancy, but also to be surrounded by such caring and supportive people.

Over the next few weeks, I felt more changes happening in my body. I felt what I would describe as shifting sensations in my abdomen – though I never experienced any pain or sickness during my time with Alex. I talked to her and sang to her, knowing that the vibrations of my voice were resonating in both my body and hers. My doctor even told me that I was glowing on the outside, which I certainly felt on the inside.

It was the morning of September 14, 2011 that I awoke to dark blood in my underwear. I immediately called my doctor and she had me come into her office. When I got there, she sat me down and explained to me that I was likely having a miscarriage. She wanted me to have an ultrasound to see exactly what was going on.

An ultrasound was scheduled at the local hospital. I was told to drink plenty of fluids because they would be able to get a better picture if I had a full bladder. I did as I was instructed and at two o’clock that afternoon, my partner drove me to the hospital. I dressed in a gown and took a seat in the ultrasound chair. The technician came in and she began her work.

The reality of what was happening had not yet begun to sink in. I was still anticipating to see an image of a healthy 9 1⁄2-week-old baby. As the technician hunted for the image, I asked her what she was looking for. “A heartbeat,” was her reply. But she didn’t find it. For what seemed like an eternity, she said nothing. Then she went to get the doctor. He explained to me what my doctor had tried to convey at the clinic – that I was having a miscarriage.

There was nothing more they could do for me at the hospital, so I was sent home. The drive home was much more quiet than the drive there. I sat and I waited. It wasn’t long before the contractions began. I went to the bathroom and sequestered myself there for about an hour as pain coursed through my body and I birthed Alex into the world.

The birth sac was about the size and shape of a grape. Seeing it, the hard truth started to sink in – I was no longer pregnant. All of my plans and dreams for her future as a loved member of my family were gone, never to come to fruition. That’s when the grief began etching its way in.

I called my doctor and was told that a miscarriage so early in a pregnancy typically indicates a genetic abnormality – that there was nothing I did (or didn’t do) that would have caused it. I heard those words, but it took me a long time to accept them.

I called my workplace as I was scheduled to participate in a training class that evening. In that moment, I was glad that I had told my coworkers that I was pregnant. They were the only ones in my life who knew, aside from a close friend and couple family cousins. So when I had to tell a supervisor that I had miscarried, she responded with understanding and empathy. I wasn’t expected to go back to work right away, but I wanted to the very next day. I wasn’t ready to be alone with my grief. I wasn’t ready to even feel it. That night I think I cried myself to sleep with quiet tears.

I have few memories of the days that followed. But what I do remember is those same people who had been so eager to share in my joy, were just as empathetic to my loss. They went from sharing their birth stories to sharing stories about their experiences with miscarriage. I had erroneously thought that miscarriage was only something that happened to older women, or women who used drugs, drank too much, or didn’t get proper nutrition. It was through the support of these people that I came to understand that miscarriage is very common and not something of which to be ashamed.

When I went to visit my doctor for a checkup afterward, I still had a long way to go in processing what had happened. She did tell me that this is something that will probably always hurt – but the hurt won’t always feel so overpowering. She told me that some women find it helpful to have some sort of ceremony or memorial service to acknowledge their baby.

I was far from ready to even consider such a thing at that time. Nothing I could ever do would be sufficient to express the grief I felt. I didn’t have any remains to lay to rest. How could I begin to lay my sorrow to rest? With nothing to touch – nothing tangible to serve as a reminder that she was here. She was real. But no one really knew her, not even myself – and I was her mother. I knew of no formula to handle a situation like this. There was no birth certificate, no death certificate, no body to dress, no casket to put in the ground, not even a baby blanket to hold onto. All I had to hold onto was my grief.

I think Sherokee Isle says it best in her book “Empty Arms” when she writes “The idea that each day gets a little better, like climbing a ladder, is a myth. Grieving and healing is not an upward, controllable process. Unlike climbing the ladder, which soon gets you to the top, grief is much more like a wild roller coaster ride or a stormy sea. It has its ups and downs, and at times you feel like you are drowning. There seems to be no exact pattern. Just when you think you are entering a lengthy calm another wave hits from behind. Eventually some peace and beauty will be more visible, but maybe not right away or for too long.”

Last year, Alex’s first memorial happened to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Judaic calendar. It is also known as the day of Atonement, a day the Hebrews consider us to be closest to G- d. This day is the most solemn of the year, yet an undertone of joy suffuses it.

But at that time, I was still too entrenched in my grief to allow myself any indulgence of joy. A part of me still believed there was something I had done to cause the miscarriage even though I had been assured by my doctors that was not the case.

But with the blessing of time, I can now appreciate the beauty of what was shown to me through the experience of being with and being parted from Alex. I see how I was shown great compassion by people who care for me. I was given a greater depth in understanding the meaning of what we call life. And I now see there are ways I can keep my memory of her alive and not let her fade away or be forgotten.

Day by day, even with her gone, I am remembering that I have alot to live for. And in my manner of living I can honor the great impact her life, though short, has had on my heart. She still comes to me in dreams – sometimes as a child or young woman and sometimes as an old woman, weathered and wise. She inspires me to keep moving forward with my life and assures me that my moving forward does not mean moving further from her. She tells me that she knows she was (and is) loved here and she reminds me that one day we will be united again in full.

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