Take a breath. This is a difficult topic to write about, but its time.
20 years ago today, I experienced the miracle of new life being born, through my own. And shortly after our tiny Son Emmanuel drew his first breath, he also drew his last. As his Father says, Emmanuel experienced the full gamut of the life cycle, all in one day.
I have written a lot about this experience of delivering our Son, only to watch him die, although I haven’t shared many of the details. I am opening up here with a specific message to share, even though it is pushing my willingness to be vulnerable to a new level.
As you may know, our first and only Daughter Alexis died in 1997, at 13 months and five days of life. I have shared a lot about her short life and how it has, and continues to impact our lives.
What I have not told many people is that actually, there were a lot of people that never knew about Emmanuel’s life and death. By the time this happened Alexis had died, Zachary’s life was extremely complex. We had our reasons for mustering the courage to have another child. But when Emmanuel died that Saturday afternoon in April 2002, after a grueling 6 day hospital admission, something in me broke beyond repair.
I crossed some kind of point, from which I would never return. From a medical standpoint I’d survived some pretty serious delivery complications and had the scare of those events to exacerbate the absolute devastation and confusion of Emmanuel’s limited moments with us.
Crossing this point of no return was crippling for me. I knew there would be no more children for us. I knew my body had been maxed out to the limits of what it could do. I knew my heart was empty and still. And on top of it all, I felt ashamed.
As we have talked about before, the difference between guilt and shame is this: I feel guilt, when I made a choice that I knew was wrong for me, but know I can make a better one next time. But shame, insidious and destructive, is when I make a choice that ends poorly, and I take myself, not my bad choice to be responsible. From there I deduct that I, not my bad choice am flawed.
So when I say I felt shame, I felt I was flawed, not my choices. I repeatedly kicked myself for all of this time, for exposing my body, my family and our Son Emmanuel to this unconscionable, tragedy of an outcome, as if I’d orchestrated the whole thing. As if, I myself, was damaged and not capable of making a good decision.
From a privacy standpoint, I won’t share much more about the details of this earth shattering day on April 6, 2002. It is still so gut wrenching. But the reason I have opened up at all about this, is that I want to support anyone who has had a miscarriage or lost an infant during or after childbirth.
If this has happened to you or someone one you know, I am sincerely sorry for those losses. But I am here to encourage you also. Just because a pregnancy ended before that little life could take hold in a body that could sustain it, does not detract from the Divine life force that it shared with our pregnant bodies.
Perhaps you were never able to hold your baby, or there was no active delivery, but a medical complication occurred or the pregnancy didn’t take. You may be tempted to dismiss this experience as unfortunate, or shitty even, but now allow yourself to truly process and connect the experience of having life inside your own. If you fall into this category, of hiding, downplaying, holding your breath once annually when the date of the loss rolls around, please know that you do not need to do that alone.
A pregnancy, no matter how “viable” or how gestationally progressed that life is, is still a life. It has a place in our lineage, and in our family. We have full permission to include these losses in the bigger portraits our families. Allow these fragile spirits a “place at the table” so to speak, even if it’s just a flower arrangement in their honor, or a tiny candle you may burn to remind you of their breath.
The only thing worse than having to give our adult female bodies over to a fetus that is unable to develop and survive, is to belittle our sadness, shock and yes even shame, and feel the pain alone. So don’t do that! (I say with a loving tone, of course.)
Tell someone it’s the anniversary of your miscarriage, or journal about it. Maybe you even had to decide to terminate a pregnancy, the most difficult decision I feel a woman could face. Tell someone. Or meditate. Or walk in nature. Or go to a place of Worship.
But whatever you do, own your truth. Allow all the parts of you to be here. Find someone worthy of hearing it, even if that is your pet, or a picture on the wall. But own it. It is as much a part of us as anything else and all of life’s expressions have a place in the Universe. Let’s not allow these parts of us to be shackled up in a closet somewhere, patiently waiting for the respect, love and tenderness they deserve.
And to repeat, if you have lost a pregnancy, or a child, or anyone you love for that matter, I truly am sorry for your loss and repeat the reason for this blog: To connect us through what hurts us instead of letting it shame and isolate us; to transcend grief through compassionate presence. Let’s let that connection fully encompass all of our losses, not just the ones we think people will approve of or understand.
And to our Son Emmanuel, on this 20th anniversary of his birth and death, I say: “I love you.”
PS If interested here is a link to the post I wrote last year on April 6: