Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Baby Died: Please Allow Extra Grace

By Megan Coker

Dear Family and Friends,

Perhaps you are having a difficult time; Someone you know lost a child. You’re not sure what to say or do, and you’re confused as to why the only thing they can focus on is their grief. Your friend seems selfish and absorbed in her pain. This is obviously very hard for you- you should not have to deal with this because she should not have to deal with this. It is tough to see someone you know suffering. I wish there were a handy manual on how to talk to your friend, but there just isn’t… because there’s no manual for what your friend is going through.

But here’s the thing, I am your friend.

I want so badly for you to understand what I’m thinking and feeling, but I also never want you to come close to being able to understand.

The best I can do is tell you what it’s like for me, and then maybe you’ll give me more grace as I learn to live without my baby. 

What is it like for me?I will try to explain.

We were watching “Shweekend” the other night: Shark Weekend. It’s been a while since we had cable channels beyond local news so we missed Shark Week this year. But apparently Discovery Channel capitalizes on only sharks so much that they must designate weekends to programming them as well. That, and “Naked & Afraid”. (We’re not watching that show.) Anyways. We were watching a documentary on a shark named Dynamite and his learning to breach to catch his food. Near the end, he finally catches himself a seal. 

The seal saw it coming but didn’t have enough time to prepare or run away from the devastation that is going to swallow him whole. Dynamite shoots straight up out of the water with the seal clenched between his teeth, then takes him back down under the water where he is eaten and never seen again.

I feel like the seal. Carrying to birth after being given a fatal diagnosis is like watching the shark coming for you but not being able to save yourself.

Thanks to our new channels I can also find myself awake at 1:30 a.m. actually focusing on the infomercial because it is distracting. I don’t want to focus on my grief. Understand that I am not trying to be sad. I am trying to keep sane. So I know I have to be sad. I am sleep deprived thinking about this in circles, and also about ordering a $500 wheelbarrow, just in case.

I am paranoid of what you might think of me. Am I acting appropriately? I worry once a day over what you and our mutual friends talk about when I’m not around. If I don’t show up at the party, will you assume I just can't pick my head up today? If I show up early to the party with casserole in hand and smile on face, will you assume I am “over it”?

I’m not over it. I never will be! This is the new normal me. If you cannot accept that I will never be ok with losing what I’ve lost, that’s all right... but we should not be friends anymore.

You don’t have to say anything special to me: just remember me. The best thing anyone has ever said to me was “I don’t know what to say, but I do want you to know that I’m thinking of you”, right in front of my face, tears in her eyes. You don’t have to know any words. It is comforting to me that you don’t. 

I worry about people who know exactly what to say in the face of tragedy- either they are really good with  words or have seen too much of it. There’s a whole list of things not to say, but there is not a single right thing to say. For me, if you avoid clichés and just sincerely care there is so much solace in just saying you care.

Please stop telling me to let you know if I need anything. I will not pick up the phone to call you over to pick me up off the floor or lie with me in bed. In the weeks following the funeral I will not tell you that we’ve had drive-thru burgers 5 times this week because neither of us have the gusto to cook even macaroni and cheese. If you want to help, if you feel like you need to help, just help.

I had oral surgery at the beginning of this month and though I tried not to let them go out of the way, sweet friends brought over soft dinners so it was the last thing we had to worry about.

Before that a friend in the midst of grief due to her third miscarriage in a row invited me over to just sit- she didn’t force me to talk but she didn’t try to change the subject when I talked either.

It's hard for me when you just lay out an open invitation: “I’m here if you need anything”. I will not go out of my way to tell you what I need. What I need is so inconvenient for me, so I try not to inconvenience anyone else.

I need to lie down and I need to get up. I need to be quiet and I need to scream. If you want to join me, you’re the one with the open invitation.

Please go easy on me: it has been two and a half months and I still hardly want to leave the house. I am in a new place, even further away now from the place my baby is buried. Sometimes I want to come over. Sometimes I want to go to lunch. And sometimes I really do just want to stay in the bedroom with the blinds drawn. I try not to flake out on plans, but I can’t predict what state I will approach them in. It  might be better you view me as a flake.

I cannot be in large groups of mothers. I cannot swallow the blood in my mouth from biting my tongue when we bring up everyone’s child but mine. I cannot sit still when you all begin to complain about parenthood. “You’ll understand one day” and “just you wait” are phrases that make me cringe. 

I would rather be up all night long with a colicky baby and not have a chance to shower for three years and give up brushing my hair and have a messy living room all the time and fight dinner time/bath time/bed time and deal with an embarrassing meltdown in the Walmart than have to suffer another hour without my kid. Those are things you’ll never understand and so I can’t tell you “just wait and see”. I hear you all talk so insensitively about parenthood, then I’m sure when I leave you tell each other you just can't imagine yourself in my shoes.

Everything is mundane. My favorite foods taste like dirt. I am indifferent about things that used to matter and now so hypersensitive about things that didn’t matter before. When I’m not having a meltdown, I am emotionally numb. Not physically though, my body literally just hurts all the time.  I feel as though I’ve had a harder time recuperating from birth, but I know it is just my body trying to carry my heaviest heart. Loss hurts.

I function on autopilot. There is a beginning of a day and an end. I miss a lot of what happens in between, and I just don’t care about most of it.

When you ask me if I’m jealous, it is a loaded question.I’m genuinely happy for you, my pregnant friend, my newly-birthed mother friend, my mom-of-eight friend, and even my happy-without-kids friend. But I am also sad for me. I am envious- watching strangers with babies the age my Eden would be now, seeing posts by other women going about healthy pregnancies and complaining about how long pregnancy is (it's so much shorter than I wish it was)… 

I am sad for what ignorant bliss I didn’t get in pregnancy and what I have had taken from me in motherhood. But know this: I am not bitter. I am so elated to see the miracle of life around me. Just be patient with me when my face looks like I’ve been punched in the gut as I hold and caress your precious, healthy new baby’s face.

I will try not to show this around you, but know that few things make me ragey the way a parenting debate does. I don’t have my child here to argue the best way to feed her or the best place to put her to sleep. I don’t have a trophy to show how well my medicated birth went, that there’s no need for the “natural childbirth” pedestal and it doesn’t make you a better mother. I can’t join these debates because I’m too busy trying to figure out how to parent my daughter that’s in Heaven. You’re all moms just doing the best you can, so why can’t you all just mind your own?

I am angry sometimes. In my midnight fits of hyperventilation I ask a lot of “why’s” and I repeat the “this isn’t fairs”. I’ve turned into a four-year-old. I ask that you can hold my hand and not try to explain that everything happens for a reason and just walk with me through the swamp that my grief is. You can’t possibly produce a good enough reason for why this has happened, and my anger is justified. I haven’t lost faith in God, but I’m upset with Him. That’s allowed. Don’t try to change me where I am nor rush me past a necessary stage of grief by telling me my anger will do no good.

Speaking of stages of grief- they don’t go in order like the diagrams would tell you.  (as a matter of fact, there are no stages of grief at all). In one day I complete the entire cycle, in one week I am stuck in one spot. Sometimes I’m so happy and glad but that does not mean I’m back to being “me”, sometimes I’m so depressed and lost but that does not mean I’ll be the same way tomorrow.

Try to avoid the logic of my age and ability to reproduce. “You’re so young, there will be more”, and “sending baby dust for your rainbows” are not helpful offerings. One day, I’ll be ready to be a mama to Eden’s siblings. But right now, I don’t want *A* baby, I want *MY* baby.

Know that it is much more comforting to me when you don’t turn the conversation to my next children and just focus on the one I lost. Besides, I personally don’t like the term “rainbow baby” very much at all. To me, it implies that Eden was a storm. She isn’t a storm, though grief does feel like a flood. I know that many find comfort in the rainbow as God’s Promise of hope. They call their subsequent babies  rainbows. That’s fine. It works for them. But I wasn’t promised a child after loss, I wasn’t promised a child at all. I know that God’s promises can be and will be fulfilled in my life if there are no more babies for me. Though my next child(ren) may make life easier, they will never make the blow of my loss softer. This is something I know.

I held her as she breathed violently and I kissed her cold body goodbye. No warm child will erase the chill of her on my lips, as equal as my love will be.

It makes me so glad to just hear her name out loud. Even if it’s only to say you thought of her. If we’re focusing on my children, let us focus on the one that existed. I’ll never talk to you about the children you don’t have yet while we are on the floor playing with your twins. I don’t need much, my friend. Just to know that she isn’t forgotten and that you aren’t trying to push her away.
Eden Olivia Coker
I am suffering. I need you to tell me that it’s ok when I bounce back and forth between extreme darkness and radiating light. In one breath I can say four things:

- “I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes I don’t want to live anymore.”
- “I can not imagine a more purposeful life than just giving one to her.”
- “This is not supposed to be my life.”
- “I am so blessed just to know and feel this extreme love.”

I gave birth! Congratulate me. I’m a new mama!

I lost a baby! Mourn with me. I’m a bereaved parent.

This is hard for me, so I can see how it will be hard for you, too. I will be patient with you, I promise. Don’t be afraid, I am not contagious.

I’m thankful, so thankful that you are here. That you are trying. I love you just for trying. I love you just for attempting. I may not always show my gratefulness in the best ways. But I know that you will try to understand that too.

You’re helping me by choosing to walk through it with me, so I will help you by trying to explain this stuff, by writing out these words to tell you what I am these days, to tell you the one thing I need most: patience.

This is my new life. I will probably be a bad friend for a while. My soul is consumed with this loss of losses. Please, allow me a little extra grace.

Love me in my pain and help me celebrate having something to be in such pain over.

~ ~ ~

Megan carried Eden Olivia to birth in June 2015 after receiving a diagnosis of a severe Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia in the Bilateral form. Eden lived for 40 minutes. Megan is Ryan’s wife and together they follow his Army career. She has found a way to honor Eden’s short life in capturing the beautiful moments of others through starting her photography business, Eden’s Garden Images. Each day has its new challenges for both Megan and Ryan but they are learning to lean on each other through it and work steadily on strengthening their marriage. Megan finds healing through writing about Eden and remembering their beautiful time together.


Anonymous said...

I do not really know you but I have witnessed your remarkable story in silence simply from not wanting to intrude. If I'm being totally honest it was probably my fear of saying the wrong thing that kept me silent. Just want you to know that your story has touched my life in a way that I cannot begin to explain. Keep sharing your story. I am positive there are a countless number of other people who have been touched by you and your beautiful family. May beautiful Eden never be forgotten. No matter what the future may bring I wish you peace in God's everlasting grace.

Unknown said...

I am so sorry for your loss, and I know that words sometimes make it worse to bear the burdening load, but I also have such joy in knowing that you love Eden so much that you are willing to tell people how you feel. Thank you so much for sharing this. It was so beautifully said. May God bless you and your hubby abundantly. And He will faithfully take care of your little piece of heaven that He allowed you to borrow.

Firefly said...

Wow wow WOW! I could have written so much of this about myself! Thank you for putting it in to words (though I hate beyond words that you are able to because you lost Eden). Love to you, beautiful mama.

Megan Kelley said...

Thank you for sharing your hear. I, too, lost my baby soon after birth. I was so grateful for the four hours we received. We learned of his diagnosis at 10 weeks gestation so I felt like I spent much of my pregnancy mourning his loss before it even occurred. I have felt all that you described here. I wish that I had words of encouragement, but I'm only a few months ahead of you in this grieving process. The worst part for me was the sudden stop in friends checking on us. The only ones that seemed to truly understand were those that had walked the same dark road ahead of me. You are not alone. I'll be praying for you and your husband and that God will wrap His arms around you and provide peace that only He can.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words & a really helpful piece for friends supporting someone through loss. Eden Olivia is precious x

mkc316 said...

Love back to you!! I hate that you also know this pain. <3

mkc316 said...

Thank you for letting me share my heart and my precious girl. We appreciate your prayers!

mkc316 said...

Thank you so so much for telling me how Eden has affected your life! Your prayers are felt. <3

mkc316 said...

I'm so so sorry you also know this pain. Early diagnosis caused me to mourn a lot of my pregnancy too. And you are so right- the worst part is the sudden disappearance of those who used to be so concerned. Praying for you as we walk this road together. <3

mkc316 said...

Thank you!! I'm so glad you find it helpful. And also thank you, I think she is the most beautiful baby but I may also be a little biased ;)

Jamie Gillespie said...

I am so very proud of you, Eden's Momma. I went through your experience with you on FB, but had already gone through it personally myself many years ago. I love that you are writing about it and saying the things all of us other "angel mommies" want to say, but cannot express. You are a strong, courageous person, wife and mother. My life is better just by knowing you.

Brittany Lawson said...

Thank you so much for sharing. My heart breaks for you both. I am so sorry for your loss, she is beautiful!!! <3333

Ms. Brinkman said...

Thank you so much for writing down this post. Your thoughts are written so well, you explain what it feels like so well. I have posted this on my facebook as a message to my family and friends. For the ones that want to know the real answer to the question, "How are you doing?"
I am so so sorry about your little Eden. She should be with you alive and well. She should be with you in your arms starring up at your face, you looking down at hers, showing her with your eyes that she is your whole world and you would do anything for her. That's how I feel about my little Amara. We lost her at 30 weeks to a cord around her neck. She was born big and beautiful at 5lbs 4 oz 16inches. I know she would have lived if only we had known she was in trouble. I never got to see her eyes open. I miss her so much. It been 7 weeks and I feel like I'm trying not to go crazy. Its so hard to live everyday without her, Knowing I can't change anything. A mother without a baby. My whole life so changed. Arms so empty.
Its so lonely. Thank you for being a voice in the dark.
I don't know how to communicate to people what i'm going through, in a quick conversation there is no way of getting across the true weight of what this is, and most people wouldn't want to hear it anyway.
Lovely pictures of Eden she is very beautiful.

Rachel Hayden said...

Your daughter is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for putting into words what I could not. The feelings go from my heart to my throat but no further. Your gift for getting those thoughts out in strings of wonderful sentences is amazing. Because as bereaved parents we know that words only take us so far, and then we are in a kind of void of nothingness because there are not the words in the English language that come close to what's going on. I think that lack of words remains a problem for me still, eight years on. But reading your words this evening felt like someone throwing me a safety ring into the void, something to hold onto, something that goes somewhere, or at least some of the way. Thank you for that gift you have.I really appreciate it, it warms my heart x

Anonymous said...

I am a NICU nurse and I also float to Labor and Delivery. I am so very sorry for your loss. I hope that those 40 minutes you had with Eden were peaceful. I have seen many traumatic entrances to this world by babies who had fatal anomalies where the only minutes they have known on this earth were full of the pain and suffering of unnecessary attempts at resuscitation. I applaud you for giving Eden your love and your light for her short time here. She knew in those 40 minutes a whole lifetime of love. You are a wonderful mother.

Alicia Coe said...

You are brave and beautiful people. I will pray that you have peace beyond understanding. I was sicken to learn someone was so disrespectful and disturbed to steal the identify of your beautiful daugther. I hope that something happens with a law that can stop and punish them! May the Lord continue to bless and keep you!

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