In another context, we might have been nervous, tentative. I don't usually e-mail strangers. I hope you don't think I'm a stalker. I'm so sorry about the loss of your baby. But our desperation made us brave. Please let someone else be awake at 3am. Please let someone else tell me that I'm not alone in this. Please let someone who knows tell me that I can survive this.
Slowly, carefully, I found a support system weaving its way around me. Daily e-mails as long as I needed them. Women who were a few years out, a few months out, and eerily right on my timeline (the December 4-6, 2010 Bereaved Mothers Group). Later, there would be new names and e-mails, more recent losses who looked to me for some kind of guidance, as though I had answers. (I didn't, but I could tell them we were all stumbling along together.) In the beginning, I went to Glow in the Woods. I went to Faces of Loss. I went to the Stirrup Queen's Blogroll. I read my way around this grieving corner of the internet.
I must have read hundreds of blogs, hundreds of stories. Sorrow and rage and shame and heartbreak self-publishing online with stories of babies loved and lost. It was a strange world. It made me wildly uncomfortable. It was like being on a new planet--Planet My Baby Died. I didn't want to belong here. This was the last place I wanted to be. But no, this was exactly where I belonged now. And the only thing that made it bearable was the discovery that most of the other people on this planet were actually kind and smart and funny and interesting and not completely defined by their grief, even when it overwhelmed them.
Eventually, I found my people. We started as an informal support group and eventually discovered we were truly friends. We cried and we laughed and we typed each others' babies' names. We commented and we e-mailed and we texted and we called and eventually, some of us met in person.
The weirdest part was that it didn't feel weird.
It doesn't feel like you haven't met someone before when you've already confessed to them your deepest secrets, your darkest guilt, your most painful heartbreak, and discovered that their pain matches yours. You become kindred spirits in the moment when your heart whispers back, "Me too."
Friends bond over shared experiences, and the experience of baby loss is no exception. It is a relief to meet up with people who have been through the experience of baby loss, and it's a delight when they are the kind of people you'd want to be friends with anyway.
|Rainbow babies whose mamas read Anne of Green Gables|
I'm not exaggerating when I say that I couldn't have come through those early months without the mothers of these babies, and the babies who came before them.
|Don't drink the bathwater!|
It makes no difference, really--we don't need photos to remember the benefit of what felt like a weekend of therapy. Of laughing and crying (and, for about half our crew, barfing) with women who are still grieving and still angry and admittedly kind of effed up (hey, we all are) but who are also kind and funny and smart and so full of love for all our babies.
The fact that the weather was sunny and gorgeous didn't hurt either. And while my precious little snowflake was, in fact, THE ONLY CHILD who committed a Toddler Felony (2nd Degree Biting, didn't break the skin but totally left a mark), not to mention a whole series of Toddler Misdemeanors and Party Fouls (baby stroller theft and sippy cup swiping to name a couple) the whole group was really nice about not shunning us and reassuring me that it's Normal Toddler Behavior to act like a real A-hole sometimes.
|My Little Firecracker and Little Miss Mellow|
And no matter what we admitted to feeling or having felt in the aftermath of our baby's death, someone else was always there to nod and say, "Me too" and pass a box of tissues.
I'm a contagious crier (as well as a contagious puker, although I managed not to succumb to the stomach virus) and I was overwhelmed with sympathetic grief sometimes. I live with the loss of Eliza every day and have gotten practiced at carrying that weight with me, but when I see the heartbreaking sadness in the eyes of my friends, when I think of what they have lost and what they have suffered... I was trying to describe it to David, how surreal it is to feel so terribly sorry for someone who is going through the same thing I'm going through, and he got it exactly right when he said that I spend most of my time on the inside of grief looking in, and suddenly I was on the inside looking out at other people who were also in the trenches. I hate that we have to live without Eliza, and I hate that there are countless other parents forced to reckon with the same loss.
Every adorable baby/toddler in that photo above represents another beloved child who is dead. It seems like it should be impossible, but it's true. I miss Eliza, and I am terribly sorry for the losses of Anna and Otis and Camille and Hayes and Bear and and Addy and Elizabeth and Liam and Evelynn and many, far too many, others. I'm so terribly sorry that their parents are living with that grief. And I am so, so grateful that somehow in the depths of our despair, we managed to throw out a lifeline and extend a hand and find each other.
|We tried to take a "rainbow hat photo"--guess whose rainbow REFUSED to cooperate? Hint: She's standing in front of the sofa, looking the wrong direction.|
When we are very lucky, we manage to get together in real life with one or two or more of those who share our pain and understand our loss and, simply by doing so, lighten our burden. And it helps so much when they love our rainbow babies, too--even the ones who bite.
|Caution: The cuter they look, the harder they bite.|