Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Weekend of Rainbows

It started out as a lifeline. A tiny thread, thrown out into the dark. From one desperate, hurting mama to another. I saw your comment. I read your blogpost. My baby died, too.

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
Two weekends ago, I met up for the second time (mostly) with just a few of the people who have shifted from Babyloss Lifeline to Real True Kindred Spirit Friend, and I can't quite find the words to describe what it's like to spend time with women who love my babies, who remember Eliza, who make me laugh, who cry with me, AND who live everyday with the same crippling loss. No judgment, no justification, no explanation necessary. Even experiences of loss that are different in some ways are met with understanding and acceptance.

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!
Our weekend was... let's say... complicated by a stomach bug that started taking people out on day two, but everyone (even those who ended up horking) said that the trip was worth it. We ended up with lots of adorable photos of our "rainbow babies" but, sadly, not one group shot of the mamas eating lunch topless or splashing in the pool in only our underwear. (Those things did not actually happen. That you know of.).

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
When I think of the weekend, I think of laughing in the sunshine, and chasing babies all around a huge house, and splashes in a freezing cold pool, and refereeing a lot of toddler fights over inaccurate use of the word "MINE!" but I also think of our tear-filled discussions in the living room after the little ones had been put to bed, in which we could make confessions of guilt and shame, thoughts of suicide, seething jealousy, diminished friendships, unforgivable comments, ongoing sorrow, paralyzing fears, and frank admissions of the anger that we have found ways to live with but still haven't gotten over (and in all likelihood, never will).

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.
The mamas I saw last weekend number just a few of those who have touched my life and those who have enabled me to cope with the loss of Eliza. I still wish that somehow I could thank in person every single one of you who helped me cope while also grieving your own loss. This path we walk is nearly impossible, and I think we manage only because we are not alone. The best advice I can give to parents whose loss is so painfully, impossibly new, is to tell them they aren't alone and encourage them to find their cohort, find their people, use the internet to make those connections.

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.


  1. Me too. xoxo

    Thank you for being wonderful!

  2. Reading this made me so warm and happy. I love how you wrote this. Of course I wish I had been there to have another rainbow standing in front of that couch refusing to pose (hah), but mostly I'm just so thankful we're all friends and found one another.

    It's hard looking out. David's right. We've all learned to somehow live with looking in, but looking out... it's different. Comforting. Harder. But great to have those to look out and learn about.

    I love that Cate is standing in all of these photos. Crazy rainbows.

  3. Such a sweet recap. So grateful for all of you

  4. I will not hold it against you that you posted such an unflattering picture of me, because I've got two of my favorite children sitting on my lap and that makes it all okay.

    I continue to find gratitude overwhelming me, for all of you, and for our weekend together. (And for our private suite with patio and separate bath which I swear helped keep us from horking.)


  5. Haha. I know from firecrackers, myself. Looks like a totally worth-the-effort weekend.

  6. "Don't drink the bathwater" made me almost put my morning coffee out my nose! Yes!! As Molly says, "Yummy bum water" Ew!

    This post made me feel like I was able to attend. Thank you. I wish we could have leaned on each other and said "Me too" a thousand times together last weekend.

    And the term isn't fire-cracker...it is "spirited." I use it daily!

  7. This is great to read about. I'm slowly building a few relationships with baby loss moms and it is the most helpful thing since we lost our daughter in December. I love my 'normal' friends, but sometimes I need to talk about my daughter for hours and pages at a time without feeling so one-sided.

  8. Beautiful and of course me too! So glad we got to experience another weekend together. xoxo

  9. Very cool. Those are some cute-ass babies!