I requested this book called Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. It's a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed. I can't remember where I heard or read about this book. Elle magazine? NPR? A blog? By the time it was available at the library, I had honestly forgotten I requested it. But last night, after snuggling my baby girl all evening and finally tucking her into bed, I climbed into my own bed and although I was tired (mostly emotionally exhausted), I still needed to wind down. So I picked up Tiny Beautiful Things.
The first letter was from a man who felt terrible because he had a crush on a woman who wasn't his wife.
The second letter was from a girl whose baby died when she was six and a half months pregnant.
I am typing the whole damn thing here, and excerpts from Sugar's reply, and I hope you'll take the time to read it because these words are just it. Exactly it.
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About eighteen months ago, I got pregnant. In a move that surprised both my boyfriend and me, we decided we wanted to keep the baby. Though the pregnancy was unplanned, we were excited to become parents. The child was very much loved and wanted. When I was six and a half months pregnant, I miscarried. Since then, I've struggled to get out of bed.
Not a day has gone by when I haven't though about who that child would have been. It was a girl. She had a name. Every day I wake up and think, "My daughter would be six months old," or "My daughter would maybe have started crawling today." Sometimes, all I can think is the word "daughter" over and over and over.
of course, it seems that everyone around me is having a baby and everywhere I go all I see are babies, so I have to force myself to be happy for them and swallow how empty I feel. The truth is, I don't feel much of anything anymore and yet everything hurts. Most of the people in my life expect me to be over my sorrow by now. As one person pointed out, "It was only a miscarriage." So I also feel guilty about being so stuck, grieving for a child that never was when I should just walk it off or something.
I don't talk about it very much. I pretend it never happened. I go to work and hang out and smile and act like everything is fine. My boyfriend has been fantastic and supportive, though I don't think he understands how badly I'm doing. He wants us to get married and try for another child. He thinks this should cheer me up. It doesn't. It makes me want to punch him in the head for not feeling the way I do.
Then there is the reason I lost the baby. In the hospital, my doctor said he wasn't surprised I lost the baby because my pregnancy was high risk because I was overweight. It was not an easy thing to hear that the miscarriage was my fault. Part of me thinks the doctor was a real asshole, but another part of me thinks, "Maybe he was right." It kills me to think that this was my fault, that I brought the miscarriage on myself. I can't even breathe sometimes, I feel so guilty. When I got out of the hospital, I got a personal trainer and went on a diet and started losing weight but I'm totally out of control now. Sometimes I don't eat for days, and then sometimes I eat everything in sight and throw it all up. I spend hours at the gym, walking on the treadmill until I can't life my legs.
My friends and family think I'm doing just fine, Sugar, but nothing could be further from the truth. All I can think about is how I fucked up. Everything feels like it is more than I can handle. The rational part of me understands that if I don't pull myself out of this, I'll do serious damage to myself. I know this, and yet I just don't care.
I want to know how to care again. I want to know how to not feel so guilty, how to not feel like I killed my baby.
My daughter, she had a name. She was loved. I feel like the only one who cares. Then I feel like shit for mourning "just a miscarriage" after nearly a year. I'm stuck.
I'm so sorry that your baby girl died. So terribly sorry. I can feel your suffering vibrating right through my computer screen. This is to be expected. It is as it should be. Though we live in a time and place and culture that tries to tell us otherwise, suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us.
Don't listen to those people who suggest you should be "over" your daughter's death by now. The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything. Or at least not anything that was genuinely mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering. Some of those people believe they are being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter's death.
They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.
It seems to me that you feel like you're all alone there. You aren't. There are women reading this right now who have tears in their eyes. There are women who have spent their days chanting daughter, daughter or son, son silently to themselves. Women who have been privately tormented about the things they did or didn't do that they fear caused the death of their babies. You need to find those women. They're your tribe.
I know because I've lived on a few planets that aren't Planet Earth myself.
The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you're talking about because she experienced the same thing too cannot be overestimated. Call your local hospitals and birth centers and inquire about support groups for people who've lost babies at or before or shortly after birth. Read Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Find online communities where you can have conversations with people during which you don't have to pretend a thing.
And stop pretending with your sweet boyfriend too. Tell him you'd like to punch him in the head and explain exactly why. Ask him what he has to say about the death of your daughter and do your very best to listen to his experience without comparing it to your own. I think you should see a therapist--both alone and with your boyfriend--and I strongly encourage you to call and make an appointment today. A therapist will help you air and examine the complex grief you're holding so tightly inside of you, and he or she will also help you manage your (probably situational) depression.
This is how you get unstuck, Stuck. You reach. Not so you can walk away from the daughter you loved, but so you can live the life that is yours--the one that includes the sad loss of your daughter, but is not arrested by it. The one that eventually leads you to a place in which you not only grieve her, but also feel lucky to have had the privilege of loving her. That place of true healing is a fierce place. It's a giant place. It's a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. You're a woman who can travel that far. I know it. Your ability to get there is evident to me in every word of your bright shining grief star of a letter.
You will never stop loving your daughter. You will never forget her. You will always know her name. But she will always be dead. Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. Therapists and friends and other people who live on Planet My Baby Died can help you along the way, but the healing--the genuine healing, the actual real deal down-on-your-knees-in-the-mud-change--is entirely and absolutely up to you.
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I've lived on Planet My Baby Died for 23 months today. The only reason I've survived is because I found my tribe right here. If you also live on Planet My Baby Died, I am so sorry you are here and so glad you've found some of the rest of us.