Sometimes these introductions are easy, and other times, there aren’t proper words to introduce a piece. This is the latter. Today we’re inviting you into a sacred place and I am humbled and grateful for my friend Anna’s willingness to let us into this part of her story. She shares with such grace and beauty in the brokenness that I know you will walk away not only with tears in your eyes, but also, deeply moved by her faith in the heartbreak. Anna, thank you for sharing about Lillian with us.
Here’s what it’s like to experience a late pregnancy stillbirth.
*Trigger warning for anyone who has lost a child. Check your heart today and skip if needed.*
“I’m sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.” These six words irrevocably changed my life. At 35 weeks pregnant, they were the last thing I expected to hear. I naïvely thought my daughter was safe, since we’d made it past all the viability milestones. On July 16th, 2016, at 7:52 a.m., Lillian Ruth was born. I’ll always remember how the sun was peeking over the trees as I gave a final push to deliver her. It was followed by a piercing silence. No newborn crying, no rush of activity, no wishes of “congratulations.” She was petite, at 4 pounds, 2 ounces, but as beautiful as can be. Time stood still during the hours we spent with her, but when we left the hospital with empty arms, we realized it had gone by all too quickly. Life veered off course, as I was thrown into an ocean of grief, its vastness is unknown to those who haven’t experienced it. The last 23 months have been a crash-course in navigating its waves — a process that I’ve found will last a lifetime. It’s messy, painful, scary, and lonely, but filled with more beauty than I’ve ever known.
If you came to my house, you’d see the candle we light in her memory, and the vase of flowers with her name painted on it. In our bedroom, you’d see pictures of her (the only ones we’ll ever have), and the shelf where we keep her urn. I would unlock the fireproof safe that holds a lock of her hair, her footprints, the only dress she ever wore, and even more pictures. I could tell you what happened the day she was born, and how all the fear I had during labor melted away the first time I held her. I’d share what it was like trying to fit a lifetime of “I love yous” into a few hours. I’d tell you how people came together and surrounded us with love, bringing us meals, or watching our son while we made arrangements at the funeral home. But with time, people fell away. They stopped asking about her, and grew silent anytime I would bring her up. Nowadays, I often feel alone in my grief; isolated from those who have never experienced loss. I’d explain how different my motherhood feels from that of others, and how exhausted I am parenting my sons on Earth while trying my hardest to honor my daughter in Heaven. Her absence is felt everywhere.
Despite the isolation, fear, and heartache, I see so much of God’s beauty, more than I could’ve imagined possible in fact. I see it in the juxtapositions of pain and joy; hope and hopelessness. I know He hasn’t forsaken us, because the pain hasn’t taken away my ability to feel joy. I used to think happy was happy and sad was sad; that one could only exist without the other. The mixture of the two is extraordinarily profound. Right now, I am both the happiest and saddest I’ve ever been, and I don’t know how that can be, without God having created us with such a great depth of emotion. Yes, my sense of joy now looks so very different than it did before, because there’s pain in it, and I’m realizing there probably always will be, but I am undeniably joyful. It seems impossible that a broken heart could feel full, yet mine is overflowing with hope, love, and gratitude.
I feel the deepest sense of gratitude, for each day we spent with her, all 246 of them. Watching my belly grow and feeling her kick was magical. While the pain is deep, and will forever exist in some capacity, I would go back and experience all of this again in an instant. It’s worth it just to have known her, and to have held her for those few short hours. In some ways, I’m grateful for the pain, too. My grandmother used to say, “It would be a shame if it didn’t hurt so bad, because that would mean you didn’t have such a loving heart.” How true I’ve found that to be… the grief I feel, no matter how painful it is, is born from the love I have for her. How beautiful it is to know a love that grand.
I’ve written and rewritten these words countless times, trying to figure out how I can articulate what stillbirth is like. It’s pain, heartache, isolation, fear, hope, joy, love, and so many other things. Trying to describe something so multifaceted, that occupies every corner of my life is challenging. Human life is complex, and so too is the loss of life. There are so many parts of this I could write about (grief, friendships, pregnancy after loss, parenting after loss, etc.), and these paragraphs hardly scratch the surface.
People sometimes ask me what they can do for a friend or family member who has lost a baby. My answer is simple: talk about his or her baby. Not just at the beginning, when grief is fresh, but in the months and years that follow. It isn’t painful to remember her, it’s quite the opposite. What’s painful is thinking that people have forgotten her. The small circle of friends and family members who remember Lillian, and speak her name without inhibition, are more precious than gold.
My life is unfolding in many unexpected ways, and looks entirely different than I thought it would before her death. On days when the grief is especially heavy, she feels far away. I wonder if she ever existed, and the pictures seem like a window into someone else’s life. The weight of her absence reminds me that she was present. In her life, she knew nothing but love. The tears, suffering, and my broken heart are proof that she lived. As is the love that binds us together until we meet again in Heaven. Experiencing this kind of love is one of the greatest joys in my life, and the joy of loving her will forever outweigh the the pain of losing her.
Anna is a Navy wife, and has been married to husband, Mark, for almost 7 years. Together they’re raising sons, John and Lawrence, on earth and loving daughter, Lillian, in Heaven. True to her Minnesotan roots, she loves fishing, skiing, and cold winter days (spent either outside or wrapped up in a blanket with a good book). She’s passionate about connecting with other parents who’ve lost a child, at any age or gestation, and passing along words of hope and encouragement. You can follow her on Instagram, on her blog, and visit her Etsy shop.
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, lose a parent, be childless not by choice, have a spouse with a chronic illness, fund raise for fertility treatments, have a traumatic birthing experience, take a natural route with infertility, be on a reality show, go through the adoption process, have male factor infertility,be a stay at home mom, be an entertainer, be given a Down syndrome diagnosis for your child , experience multiple miscarriagesand have a surrogate. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!