Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Live In This World

I'm dedicating today's post to Share's Walk of Remembrance, which I'll be attending with my family on Saturday, and to the Wave of Light, which I'll also be participating in Saturday as part of the effort to shatter the stigma of infertility and pregnancy loss.

This post is part of a blog tour to mark October as the month of pregnancy and infant loss awareness. You can read more about it and view all the bloggers who are participating by clicking here.


When Eliza died, I stopped moving. I left the hospital and somehow I walked in my house, but then I kept still. I sat, stunned, in a frozen stupor for a long time. I did that thing where you stare and stare and you don't have to blink because your eyes are full of tears. I did that thing where you can't get off the couch and you can't change your clothes and you can't eat because when life is unbearable everything makes you want to vomit, and you especially can't eat one more godforsaken pan of sympathy-laden lasagna, or choke down one more piece of pineapple from an arrangement of condolence fruit (mostly because pineapple tastes like happiness and happiness tastes like ashes in your mouth). I resented gentle suggestions that I should take a walk, open the blinds, allow the blood to circulate in my veins. I was in shock, perhaps, but I think I was also convinced that if I just held completely still, I could stop time from going on without my baby.

I recently reread a Mary Oliver poem that made me think a lot about those early grief days, when all I wanted was to turn back time and get everything back to the way it was before. I was still clinging to Plan A with everything I had. Plan B was a dark hellhole and I wanted no part of it. I tried not to move, tried not to live Plan B. Instead, I would sit still and read poetry and avoid thinking about seasons changing without Eliza here.

Oliver ends her poem "In Blackwater Woods" like this:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the times comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The first time I read this poem, I wanted to shred it. Or spit on it. Or slash it out with a black marker. My baby was dead and I'd held her in my arms and I'd touched her cold, tiny fingers with their tiny purple fingernails and I would have traded my life for hers and this fucking poem is telling me to let it go?

It wasn't just impossible. It was completely offensive.

This poem knew nothing of my grief, of the particular brand of grief that spins into existence when the timing of a loss is completely wrong and backwards and the only explanation is that we've entered an alternate reality and we have to stop moving forward so that we can go back and fix it. I shouldn't have let her go. I should have held her tighter and slipped through a wormhole with her into an alternate dimension--back into the real world, my world--where everything was working out the way it was supposed to.

In other words: You say let it go, I say go fuck yourself.

And now... It's been six years. And yes, I see the poem differently. Mostly because I'm looking forward again, and six years ago I couldn't imagine anything but trying to undo the timeline of my life.

Now I think, this poem isn't offering advice. It is simply presenting the rules for survival. I hated the poem for being right about what I needed to do, because I was nowhere near ready to do it.

I've got the loving-what-is-mortal part down. And I know--perhaps better than most--what it is to hold that tiny, mortal being against my bones.

I struggle with the letting go.

How can I possibly let go of my dream, my plan, my life, my baby?

The answer is that we don't have to let go of the important stuff. Not the love and not the grief. But we do have to let go that desperate, breath-holding, fist-clenching hope that we are about to get a do-over. That unspeakable belief that somewhere, someone will realize this terrible, horrifying mistake and make it right. Eventually, we have to stop digging in our heels and turning our faces away from the sun. Eventually, we start walking down a new path, and we start opening our eyes not just to an unfamiliar landscape that holds both terror and beauty, but also to the community of people who join us there.

I don't like the word "acceptance" with all its implications that we can just sort of shrug and "c'est la vie" our way forward when the world has crumbled to ruins around us.

But I am starting--slowly and begrudgingly (and, mercy, it's already been almost six years so maybe I'm slower than most)--to come around to the idea of letting go of Plan A and all the preconceived notions and confident expectations that went along with it. I can't change Eliza's death. I can't turn back time and right the wrong and become the person I was before. And although I'll never stop missing her and wanting her here, I have to let go of what I thought my life would be with her here.

To do otherwise would be to freeze myself in the most devastating moment of my life, and to do that, supposing I could stand it, would fail to acknowledge all the good that has come into my life alongside the grief--including Eliza's sisters.

None of this justifies Eliza's death or makes it acceptable. But six years has allowed gratitude to interweave itself with grief in a way that I could never have predicted or imagined. I know now--though it still makes my heart itch to think about it--that I have had to let go of my old life (the life without babyloss) to make the space for this one.

This is the price we pay for being human and existing in this world: we will have our hearts broken. Life will be impossibly unfair and disappointing. Where there is love, there will be grief. Some of us will experience it more often, more harshly, more unexpectedly than others. Some of us will feel so broken that we think with absolute certainty we'll never recover. And I'm not saying that we should stop trying to right the wrongs. But grief is its own form of love.

And to love what is mortal, to hold it against our bones knowing that we may have to give it up without warning, is to live the biggest life possible.

We must--eventually--let go of old expectations to make room for a new version of happiness. It happens slowly (painfully slowly). And it's not perfect. It's not abundant recompense. It's not even a consolation prize. It's just the truth of this world. We only get this one life. It's fragile and it's full of uncertainty. Just when we think we know the next step, we're exposed as fools (and I really hate feeling foolish). The best we can do is let go of the fear, open ourselves up to love, and do it again.

None of us will get through this life unscathed, and yet still we love what is mortal as though our lives depended on it.

Because, of course, they do.


Thank you for reading about babyloss and not just pretending that life is awesome and that bad things don't happen all the time.

Special thanks to those friends and kindred spirits who showed up in person or emerged from the ether of the internet to help nudge me out of that frozen stupor in the very early days of grief--Abby, Keya, Cailin, Monica, Kate, Jill, Sarah, Brandy, Laura, and Angie.

I hope you'll all take a moment to read what Christine wrote earlier this week about grief and rainbows and highs and lows of grieving one son while parenting another. Also, please check Justine's blog tomorrow--she organized this whole blog tour and I'm grateful that she let me be a part of it.

If you participate in the Share walk this weekend, look for me there (!) and post your photos using #ShareWalk2016.

If you have a candle, a lighter/match/piece of flint, and a social media account, it would mean so much to me if you would be part of the Wave of Light at 7:00pm by posting a photo with #WaveofLight #pregnancyandinfantlossawareness (hashtags for terrible things are, by definition, kind of terrible).

And, finally, if you're missing your baby, or having trouble letting go of the life that you expected, I hope you feel the love and light coming your way.


  1. This is a great post. You're such a great writer. Clearly, a little over one year in I'm struggling with this A LOT based on the stuff I'm posting lately (today!). My dad gave me this advice yesterday in response to my post and I basically wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but I won't tell you that, because you've said it so eloquently, and it makes more sense, but maybe I have five more years to get it together, though deep down I know already that you're right? Love you, friend.

    1. I hope that I made it clear in this post, too, that this isn't a decision I made. We can't just wake up one day and be like, "Welp, I'm just going to accept that this is my life." It's a long time coming.

  2. This post punched me right in the gut.

    Four years out now, I feel all of this. So much. I have so, so, so much gratitude for what I have. And slowly, god, SO SLOWLY, I've come to let go of all that I thought would be.

    And that will never mean letting go of Luke. He's woven into my entire being--of who I've become in the past 4 years. But letting go of the expectations that I thought were a given? I think I'm starting to feel that. And it's a relief.

    But it still sucks.

    1. I'm right with you--it's a relief. But it still sucks.

  3. I came across this poem recently that captures much of what you express.

    I am over 8 1/2 years out from my daughter's stillbirth and some days I still want to hold on to my grief fiercely because it feels like that's the only way to keep her real. And then I find that my grief isn't crippling, but it is almost a treasured space that I give myself permission and grace to enter. But some days it still feels like silt in my throat and a heavy weight, "the obesity of grief" that I drag around.

    I always appreciate your posts where you use poetry to navigate grief and loss. If you have never come across the "Words for the Year" site, spend a bit of time there. For me, it has been a tremendous gift when I feel like I have no words left and nothing new to say.

    1. YES. I love that poem. I wrote about it years ago (here: and when I first posted the poem, I left off the final line, which seemed exactly right at that moment. It has taken me much longer to get from "Ok, Life. I will take you" to "Ok, Life. I will love you again."

  4. yet another beautiful post. <3
    I'm going to send it along to my friend who is grieving her son Jake. Nearly 6 years out the poem seems very honest to me, but I certainly remember those early days where I just wanted it all to end. Because how.the.fuck. was I ever going to survive to loss of one of the loves of my life? <3

    Remembering your first baby duck forever and always <3

    1. I remember you saying (on your blog or maybe in an e-mail) that no matter what happened, your life was ruined. And I was in complete agreement. It's so impossible at first.

  5. xoxo

    Amazing post Brooke.

  6. Thanks for such a great post... I relate to the concept "this poem isn't offering advice. It is simply presenting the rules for survival." Isn't that what we look for? How to survive, how to find a way to live the life we have and not the one we wanted or hoped for...

  7. Love you so much. And Eliza. And Zuzu. And Coco. And David.

  8. This is a gorgeous post, Brooke. I think those last few paragraphs of your main post are applicable no matter where we find ourselves on this journey -- pregnant after loss, adopting or continuing to live without children (or more children). I am reminded of the quote from Joseph Campbell that's featured on my blog: "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

  9. What a bracing and breathtaking piece of writing. So sorry for your loss, thank you for sharing your pain and grace.

  10. Acceptance. I remember in the beginning, I was like fuck acceptance (and anyone who suggested it). I simply could not fathom accepting that my baby died. Yet, I did. Eventually. That was a hard one but when it came, it was a relief to let go of the anger. Beautiful post and thanks for sharing the poem. xo

  11. I so want to get to this place. Without having another child, I'm still feeling like I'm holding on to the "frozen stupor" until there is someone I can say is here by the acknowledgement that it couldn't be Plan A. And this contingency sucks - because my perspective shouldn't be contingent on a rainbow. I know from many others that rainbows aren't resolutions. Thank you for your honesty and also for providing context to the possibilities of six years out. <3 Holding Eliza close to my heart on this wave of light evening.

    1. I completely understand your feeling of contingency. I felt the exact same way. I think it's because the loss of a baby is the loss of that child as a person but also the loss of your role as an active parent (you're still a parent, but obviously unable to parent as you had hoped). So having a rainbow baby doesn't replace the individual who was lost, but it does allow you to assume the role that was previously lost to you, and there is a lot of joy and relief in that. And yet, I know and admire people who found their way to a good and happy life without that experience. I think they would agree, though, that it's an even harder road and it takes more time to get there. I'm sorry you're struggling with all of this. It's so impossibly difficult. xoxo

  12. This is a lovely piece. I love that you are showing how the emotions change, how acceptance doesn't mean it was acceptable, how letting go (or accepting) doesn't mean you forget, or no longer care, but perhaps changes your anger to gratitude, and love ... always love.

  13. I read this on my phone a few days ago and had to come back to it again on my laptop.

    I'm getting there. It's been almost two years. And I'm so different than I was in October of 2014. And I'm so different than I was in December of 2014. I can't really picture what 6 years out will feel like yet.

    I always love when you write about Eliza though, because you help me understand my own grief.

    Thank you for that.

    a friend I met in support group said that acceptance is a shitty description. I hate that word, like you said. And I think it allows others to believe we're "better," that losing our children doesn't hurt us anymore. The friend said "resignation" feels more accurate. I might never accept that Lydie died, because it is something I would always change if I had any fucking power. But I have become resigned to it, and to this life without her.

    1. Resignation is a much better word than acceptance. It recognizes the logical facts without suggesting that they are remotely okay.

  14. As always, you have a way with words. I wrote my own (less eloquent) post on 10/15:

    I just finished reading The Still Point of the Turning World and she wrote something that rings so true for me on every day and this day in particular: "Grief, I realized, is watery and trembling and always exists beneath the surface of real life; just a gentle touch and its spilling everywhere. The seams are easy, too easy, to split. And that's when the real stories come out... These babies lived lives that could not be easily recalled, but what did that mean, to quantify or render a life."

    Thanks for sharing and thinking of your family and especially of Eliza.

  15. Wow. I haven't been reading blogs (for no good reason). But here I am and my heart is fluttering right now. Your words, friend, are perfect. xo