Help support Wings of Hope and do your holiday shopping at the same time! Items like these handcrafted bookmarks will be on sale at our next fundraiser. Can't make it on the 19th to the sale? Send us an email or give us a call to pre-order your crafts. We'll keep posting pictures of items as they are ready for shopping!
Saturday, November 19
Madison East Center
I'm one of the faces behind Wings of Hope. And I'm 1 in 4. As I prepare my candles for the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day service on Saturday, I reflect about how I can finally share the name I gave my child - the child no one else held but me. I also reflect on the idea that I am encouraging our community to end the silence around pregnancy and infant loss, but I haven't necessarily done my full part. So, today I'm speaking out and sharing my own story behind what propelled me to this place.
We were expecting our second child and my sister-in-law Shari was expecting her first. We had just spent a Sunday afternoon together shopping for our babies – two pregnant women joined in sweet expectation of being pregnant with children who would soon grow up as cousins, getting into mischief and creating wonderful mayhem. I was in the final stretch of the first trimester and Shari was in the final stretch of the third, and we were both giddy with pregnancy happiness.
Our beautiful day came to a close and Shari and I embraced, her swelling belly reaching out to touch me first, and we laughed that the cousins were hugging good-bye, too. Little did we know just how accurate this sentiment was. We had no idea of the kinds of goodbyes we would have to say in the days that followed.
Later that same night, after starting to spot and cramp, I ended up in the hospital, and the next day learned that my baby died. I wanted to jump out of my body that had betrayed me. Or had I betrayed my baby? I wanted to run away from myself, to leave behind the anguish that was prickling me all over.
I failed my baby. I failed my husband. I failed my daughter. I failed my family. I failed my friends. I failed myself. These thoughts consumed me.
Had I failed God? Was this a punishment? Was this a test?
Or, had God failed me? Writing that now is painful, for I have come to deeper and stronger understandings and beliefs, but I cannot hide the fact that I questioned God. I questioned why a loving God would allow mothers and families this type of pain.
I just wanted to be back in that space and time when Shari and I were shopping for baby supplies together. I felt an envy creeping in like a dark fog that settles heavily and makes it difficult to see clearly. I grew even angrier with God and more envious of Shari every second. Even though I was seething with an anger that I directed to the Heavens, I asked – or perhaps demanded – of Him to take those next few weeks before Shari gives birth and find some way to heal my heart so that when I looked into the eyes of my niece or nephew I would feel joy, and not sad longing. It was almost as if I was challenging God, giving him a time limit to heal my pain. I told Him it was the least he could do for me after he let my child die.
For two days my world was the anguishing pain of this thing we call miscarriage. That word just doesn’t describe this process, this pain, this occasion. And then on the third day the pain became so strong and severe I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the bathroom. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the door to call for Steve. Like a wave crashing on the ocean, blood burst forth from me with such intensity that it felt like my heart was going to be sucked out, too.
In that moment, I realized it. This was me saying goodbye. I rocked back and forth and apologized to my child.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t do it right. I’m so sorry I let you down as your mom. I’m so sorry. I love you. I miss you. Please don’t go!”
As those words poured out of me, so did the remains of my child. No tiny toes or whispers of fine dark hair, but my child’s broken remains. I wanted to gather those pools of blood in my hands and never let them go.
The image of these women walking to place flowers at the burial urn are from our first memorial service at the Wings of Hope site, and it perfectly brings to mind the following poem.
A Pair of Shoes
I am wearing a pair of shoes.
They are ugly shoes, uncomfortable shoes.
I hate my shoes.
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.
Yet, I continue to wear them.
I get funny looks wearing these shoes, they are looks of sympathy.
I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.
They never talk about my shoes.
To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.
There are many pairs in this world.
Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don't hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think about how much they hurt.
No woman deserves to wear these shoes.
Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman.
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.
They have made me who I am.
I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.
Since the central Wings of Hope monument was revealed, we've had questions about how we decided on the design, and who carved it. When our committee gathered a year ago to plan for the memorial site, we had several goals we wanted to achieve. The central statue - of an infant cradled in wings atop of a tapered pedestal - is the result of months of considering, talking, searching, and even some tears as we felt the emotions of such a memorial site.
We asked ourselves: What do we want the central statue to convey?
After looking at other pregnancy loss memorials, we were struck by how many of them were dark and heavy on the heart. Some were stark squares of dark granite or marble. Others bore images of crying mothers. Many images left us as a committee feeling a foreboding sadness. So it turned out we could more easily identify what we didn't like, and that in turn helped us identify those things we wanted from the monument.
After pouring over pictures and coming up with a list of emotions and ideas we wanted the statue to represent, we gave these to Tom Miller, a local stone artist who we were confident could pull our "wants" into a reality. He did not disappoint.
The central pillar rises up - for some perhaps representing a heavenly direction or to others an uplifting sense of hope. The wings offer a soft, protective home for the child who has been lost. Some see angel wings, others a soft cradle for this child who cannot be cradled by a parent. Some have said the shape of the wings remind them of gentle tears. And then there is this child. Perfect and peaceful.
It is our desire that each person who visits the memorial site is able to experience the peace of the statue and the hope that it offers. A special thanks to Tom for patiently listening to our words, understanding our hearts, and bringing it all together with his artistic talent.
We've spent a lot of time talking about moms - and how our losses impact us emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. But we are not the only hearts aching. Dads also travel their own journeys of loss - and their experiences can be more uniquely difficult because of their dual roles of grieving father and rock-solid supporter for their partner.
Some of the dads we've had the privilege of meeting have shared their stories of loss. For many these are losses they experienced years ago, and just never knew how to talk about their children they still miss to this day. For other dads there has been confusion, anxiety, and even frustration, feeling helpless as to how they were supposed to respond and act in the face of pregnancy loss.
For all of the dads out there we want them to know that Wings of Hope is for you, too. We want the guys in our community to be able to talk about pregnancy loss, and know where to look for resources for both them and their partners. We want them to feel a connection to the memorial site, to their partners, and to their children.
We have rituals for many things in life - weddings, funerals, baptisms, and more - and during those times we look to our faith leaders. For families experiencing pregnancy loss, we are not always sure about what kind of ritual we need to say goodbye, we just know we need something.
We are so thankful to Fr. John Kunz of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and Pastor Brad Jackson of Crossview Covenant Church for their leadership at the Evening of Remembrance. They comforted, prayed, offered words of reflection, and helped to provide that needed way to say goodbye.
It is our hope that in the future, other faith leaders from the community will also step forward to help lead the ecumenical services at the memorial.
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. ~ George Iles
There is one word we keep hearing from people who visit the Wings of Hope memorial site - peaceful. We invite you to visit the memorial site - a truly peaceful place for reflection - and experience this for yourself. Even if you have not experienced pregnancy loss, come and read the names and inscriptions on the pavers and take in the beauty of the central monument. There is something profound about reading the sentiments and feeling the heartache - and hope.
The new benches, installed by Tom Miller and available through him for engraving, give you the perfect perch for taking a few minutes to pray, remember, or just be still. Visit with by yourself, with a group of friends, or family - you're all welcome during the regular cemetery hours (and you can drive right to the monument and park on the road in front of it), from sunrise to sunset.
For a woman who experiences the heartache of a miscarriage, that heartache is often intensified when she is forced to ask herself how to care for the remains of her child. There is typically no standard path or protocol provided by the medical community, the first resource we look to when we experience a death.
When the Wings of Hope committee began to put the pieces together for the memorial site, one of the most significant pieces we knew we needed in place was a resource for these women. And when we first approached Mankato Mortuary we honestly were just not sure how our request would be received.
It was at that very first meeting, however, that Mankato Mortuary stepped forward and stepped up – agreeing to work with us in offering these services that had not yet been offered in the Greater Mankato community. Women who experience a miscarriage before 20 weeks gestation can contact the mortuary to make arrangements for the remains of the children they have lost, even for first trimester losses.
These remains will be cared for with dignity at the mortuary until the time of common burial at the Wings of Hope memorial site. For those who do want to participate in the common burial for the remains of their child, the mortuary is still available as a resource to work with them to make private arrangements.
We want to express our heartfelt gratitude to Mankato Mortuary. Without their support for Wings of Hope, families across our region would still be lacking in much needed resources. Because of their support, the heartache and needs of families are met with empathy and compassion.
At the Evening of Remembrance Pastor Brad read a poem that reflects many of the questions and emotions parents have after losing a child in pregnancy or newborn death. We've heard from many who wanted a copy of that poem, so we're including it here. It is an adaptation from the original by Jennifer Wasik, What Makes a Mother?. We love her original poem, but just wanted a way to include the dads in our expression of remembrance.
Last night when I stopped by the Wings of Hope memorial site to check on the new fence, I was met with a bittersweet surprise. The first of the pavers had been engraved, and among them were my own and those of my family. As I circled the walkway, reading the names, sentiments, and remembrances, the tears fell as I was struck with a mix of emotions.
Names of babies loved and lost. Some lost decades ago and some achingly recently. Words of comfort from community members. Yet these words on the pavers are more than just carvings in stone. They are steps in healing for women, for families, and for a community as we come together to find a way to support each other in pregnancy loss. They are reminders that we are not alone, and that the lives of our babies lost in pregnancy are still cherished.
- Chris O., Wings of Hope Chair
[NOTES: There are more pavers completed than pictured, and there are still pavers to be engraved. If you would like to know if your paver has been engraved, please send me a note with the description of the paver - I have pictures of all completed pavers. We will update you here when all of the orders have been engraved. There are also still pavers available for engraving. All proceeds go to pay for the central monument, which we hope to have installed next week, and for the costs related to Wings of Hope services.]
The members of our committee have all been on the journey of pregnancy loss, but in different ways. Learn more about why they are all so passionate about bringing awareness and comfort to families who lose a child during pregnancy.