“Lord, we weep with those who weep and refuse to be consoled. May our tears mix with yours in a river of justice, flowing down like mighty waters, transforming the world that is into one that ought to be. Amen.” –Book of Common Prayer
Nothing in my life up to that point could have prepared me for that day six years ago—that day when my heart entered a griefdeeperthanwords.
The sky was gray and dark, foreboding, and it drizzled a mist-like rain–just enough to cover my tears. That day I would give birth. It wasn’t my first time giving birth, so I knew what to expect.
And yet I didn’t.
That day I would give birth but no birth certificate would be written–no death certificate would be signed. That day I would give birth in labor and in pain and in stillness.
On my door would be a small postcard sized picture with a single rose in the center of a black background–a tear falling down the petal of the rose. The card would ensure that no one would enter my room; I was assigned one nurse who would be by my bedside for the next twelve hours or longer if necessary. The usual bevy of hospital personnel would not be seen in this room–no nursing assistants, no doctors, no housekeepers, and no food service. Stillness was everywhere.
No one spoke in the outside world, and inside my body, stillness also reigned—no little one moved or breathed, no heart pumped blood through his tiny little veins.
And above it all that day, I swirled somewhere in an eerie silent place, my own heart still and lifeless.
Six years later, there is a growing sadness in me that doesn’t seem to pass or still with time.
No matter what anyone has said or written about the “stages of grief”, sorrow is fluid and cannot be determined in concrete, linear form. Each day there is an ebb and flow of heartbreak that may be as brief as the blink of an eye or as long as the daylight hours. No green road side sign says how many more miles until you arrive at the destination of the State of Non-Grief.
In fact, I don’t even know what the opposite of grief is. Is it contentment? Happiness? Joy? Peace? I have experienced all those things simultaneously with crippling grief—the kind that sucks the air out of your lungs and leaves you gasping in the middle of a work meeting or at the grocery store or at another child’s dance recital.
David’s death is a dividing line in my life—a point in time where I moved from surety to insecurity with the words, “I can’t seem to find a heartbeat” followed swiftly by the bone chilling, “I’m so very sorry.” I remember wondering what the sonographer was sorry about even as I heard the wails of my then 12 year old daughter in the distance. Everything sounded far away even though the room was tiny, and all of this was happening within two feet of me.
I had brought Lizi with me to the doctor that day so she could hear the heartbeat. How cool would that be for a 12 year old—to actually hear the heartbeat of her sibling in the womb?
Except there was no heartbeat.
And it wasn’t cool.
Not even in the least.
I discovered things about myself that I did not know or recognize. I felt like I was moving through a dark cave with only my hands to cautiously guide me. I wanted to run as fast and far away as I possibly could. I came to understand why C.S. Lewis penned the words “No one ever told me that grief looked so much like fear.”
People tried to comfort me—some talking too much, going on about how they understood my grief because they lost their pet fish a few months earlier. I did not want to put grief into a hierarchy weighing my own as deeper or more significant than another kind of grief, but these people often left me with feelings of anger. Others felt awkward around me, avoiding the topic of David’s death, and discussing trite matters of weather and sports. For these people, I pasted on the mask of pleasantness and tuned out.
People asked questions like would we “try again” and made well-meaning but miserably inappropriate comments like “it’s all for the best” and “heaven has another angel” and my personal favorite “God never gives you more than you can handle”.
Eventually, I stopped talking with people.
I pulled out of life and into my shell.
In my perfect world of withdrawal, the silence was both deafening and comforting.
I know that there are those who judged me during the months following David’s death. One of my greatest sorrows from those DaysofGreatSorrow was the loss of a dear friendship. To this day, I do not know why this friend stopped talking to me, but it happens, I suppose. I most likely offended her in some way, wounding her with my silence. I don’t blame her for ignoring me and letting go of our relationship; she just didn’t understand.
There is simply no information about stillbirth.
Before I lived through it, I had no idea either. With a stillbirth, there is still birth. A woman goes through labor–there’s no Ziploc seal to open a womb and release the baby. She delivers her baby in the old-fashioned lotsofpainandlabor way.
The difference is that in a live birth, a woman has the joy of holding her precious breathing child in her arms after the work of labor. In a stillbirth, a woman holds in her arms a tiny, perfectly formed lifeless baby; no birth certificate is written even though there is still birth.
How can a mother mourn the loss of a life she never knew? Dreams were still dreamed. Hopes were still hoped. A bright future was still pictured. Would this child look like mom or dad or a mix of both? Would this child be quiet and pensive or loud and boisterous?
The loss is exacerbated by the unknown answers.
During the next pregnancy, should there be one, the loss is keenly remembered with the words “high-risk” and “keep an eye on things” and “fetal kick count tests” and “weekly non-stress test monitoring after 28 weeks”. Every single day during my next pregnancy with Ev, I knew he would die in my womb. I knew that somehow my body would kill him. And I knew this with absolute certainty—beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Every. Single. Day.
I withdrew from bonding with him in the womb. Grief overwhelmed me, and I was terrified.
At the end of my pregnancy when I had preeclampsia and needed to be forced early into labor, I still withdrew from connection. The fetal heartbeat monitor was my friend: as I heard the steady beating heart and crazy wild kicking of the Little Mister throughout labor, I felt the first glimmer of hope that he might live.
Since David’s birth, I have learned my fears with Evan were not unfounded. One in two hundred pregnancies ends in stillbirth.
One in two hundred means that at weddings or graduations or bar mitzvahs or in church on Sunday at least one person has experienced a stillbirth. I was amazed following David’s birth at the number of people who came out of the woodwork to tell me that they, too, had experienced a stillbirth. To me, it felt like more than one in two hundred, and yet, a cloud of silence surrounds the subject of stillbirth. Talking about such intense grief seems to make people uncomfortable and wary. I get that.
But talking about stillbirth isn’t the most important thing a person can do for someone experiencing such a grief. Listening is. Pull up a chair and sit in the silence. Listen to the grief, as hard as it may be to hear in its raw reality.
When we listen to the stories of others, even ones about a griefdeeperthanwords, our hearts grow. In embracing the darkness—our own as well as that of others—our world expands to include not just joy and love and hope, but also sorrow and heartbreak.
Together we sit in the silence.
Together we weep.
Together we mourn.
These are a few of the things I have learned in the past six years. Although my grief still feels painfully raw, I am able to talk about it now. I am able to share a small picture of what that darkness looked like from the inside with others. I am able to sit in the silence with a deep and personal understanding—an understanding that has begun to overcome the griefdeeperthanwords only with the sharing of my own story.
Together we remember that we tell ourselves stories in order to live.
So today I remember. I remember a life cut short but still precious in every way. I remember and share so that perhaps someone else will see a glimmer of hope at the end of her own darkness.
Today I remember with all the love of a mother’s heart David Carl Jordan—born in stillness but still born.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller