Finding My Own Hope
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.
I felt that once again I was failing. I felt as if I wasn’t even mother enough to gather and piece back together my own child in that pool of blood that was growing. And so I cried and waited for the waves of blood to subside. In retrospect, I should have gone back to the clinic as the bleeding was extremely heavy and I remained physically weak for several days, but in that moment I could not think past my own pain.
That night after dinner I told Steve that I needed to call Shari – I wanted to connect with her. Steve looked at me with pained eyes. Then he told me that her water broke the day before. She was in the hospital and they were going to be starting labor soon. They had been giving her some steroids to build up the baby’s lungs because she was still about a month early, but they weren’t too concerned at this point.
What? Where was my God? Where were his comforting ways on my heart? Is this some other kind of test? Is this some kind of twisting punishment, causing pain for the envy I had as retribution? As a reminder that envy is not full of grace?
My miscarriage isn’t even complete and now I must go and celebrate the birth of my niece or nephew. I don’t know if I can do this.
I walked into my bedroom and quietly shut the door. I was embarrassed to allow Steve to see my envy and anger spill forth in a new wave. I sat on my bed and then slid to the floor, crying out into a pillow, “It’s not fair! Why is this happening? I needed more time! This is more than I can handle! It’s not fair! Why didn’t God let me have time to heal before Shari delivers?”
Steve and I waited for the phone call to tell us if we had a niece or nephew, and all of those wonderful statistics about length, weight, and hair color. When the phone call came the look on Steve’s face told me something was not right.
What could have happened? Was Shari OK? The baby? He quietly put the phone on the table.
Shari gave birth to a boy – Colton Ray. He lived for only minutes because of diaphragmatic hernias which were not identified before birth and did not allow his lungs to develop.
In a week that seemed destined to fill my head with questions that had no answers, I fell into a fog of disbelief. They were in one of the most advanced hospitals in the world! Babies almost half his gestational age survive early birth every day!
How did a baby who by all accounts should have been healthy enough to survive at this point in pregnancy only live for minutes?
Is God punishing me for my envy by taking Shari’s child?
How is Shari surviving this unimaginable heartache?
How is Shari?
In just days we made our way to the farm in sad anticipation of the funeral for Colton. Within minutes of arriving I was shown pictures of sweet Colton. He was beautiful. His tiny frame seemed like he possessed the strength to cry, to cry out at any moment. Yet we knew that was not the truth. We knew that he had not the strength nor the physical capacity to breathe in the life that he seemed so perfectly created to live. A teddy bear was nestled in his arms. The tears crashed down my face and my shoulders shuttered. This horrendous mix that was churning inside of me again made me want to run away from my own body.
I cried for my nephew, dressed in a soft baby gown, who lay lifeless in the wicker cradle.
I cried for Shari who I knew was next door in tremendous pain because she had to leave his body at the hospital.
I cried for myself. I wanted a picture of my baby. I wanted something to remember him or her by – something that would tell the world he or she existed.
I stared at those pictures, one of tiny toes that had black ink on them from taking the footprints. That made me sob even more – because I knew that those feet would never grow, and because I wanted my own set of footprints. The mixing of emotions made me nauseated until I had to break away from it all.
What kind of person envies a tiny casket of an infant? I began to despise myself. In that instant I fell into a deep and dark hole where I was buried in my own grief and I also buried myself for being envious. I recognized in my own pain an envy that shamed me.
I envied the life of Colton that was recognized.
I yearned for a process to follow. There is a body, there is a funeral, there is a process for mourning. I had no process – and I felt extremely alone in my journey.
I left with my envious thoughts and went to the bathroom. I yearned for a picture of my child who died. It is such a morbid thought but I craved seeing the face of my child, even in death. I didn’t have an ultrasound picture, or a picture taken after death with a teddy bear nestled in his or her arms. I had another trip to the bathroom to wipe away traces of blood – of my baby.
And then I looked around and noticed with an ironic twinge of pain that even the bathroom couldn’t decide – for it was both baby boy blue and soft cherub girl pink. And there I sat on my throne of shame. I did not want to leave, although I was growing to hate the very colors of the room.
Why are you doing this to me, God?
Why didn’t I receive time to grieve?
Why did you have to take Colton, too?
What did Shari and I do to deserve this?
What did our babies do to deserve this?
I summoned every ounce of energy in my body to leave that bathroom. I could hear life moving on around me, but I did not want to be a willing participant.
When I saw Shari for the first time our eyes locked and it was just one singular, long, connected avenue of pain. We sat in silence for far too long. We couldn’t even find the words that were jumping around in our heads. Neither one of us could utter complete sentences.
We had just seen each other days before – hours before. We were so incredibly overflowing with a shared joy the last time we exchanged words and hugged good-bye. Now we were both so filled with weariness and our emotions were sucking us down that we could barely function. Our aching bodies and hearts filled that room and squeezed out any space.
At the funeral home we walked down the hallway to the room that held the tiny casket and Colton’s body. At the door there was a sign: Colton Ray.
I almost collapsed right there and had to pause and stare at the floor in order to regain my balance. The reality of seeing Colton’s name on the entryway of the funeral home receiving room made this moment even more surreal. My nephew’s name should have been emblazoned across birth announcements, not imprinted on memorial cards. And then a dark sadness crept into me and I swear I could actually feel it burning through me. My child has no name. The thought kept digging deeper into my soul.
As I lifted my eyes I saw the casket. I saw Shari sitting nearby, tissues in her hand to wipe the tears, and family and friends surrounding her. Her husband stood by the casket, as if keeping guard over his infant son. Steve approached his brother and the two embraced with such strong intensity that it took my breath away.
Together Steve and I went forward to the casket and I looked upon my nephew’s beautiful face. His body appeared to be perfect and he held so many of his mother’s gentle features. Dressed in a soft, cotton sleeper, he looked as if he had just been placed there for a nap.
I prayed to a God I no longer trusted with all of my heart. I questioned why he would deprive this gorgeous baby boy of the lungs he needed to live. I then whispered to Colton, “Play with your cousin. Take care of your cousin. I will see you both again someday.”
I retreated to a corner of the room to absently stare at the carpet patterns. Steve moved on to speak with relatives and friends and I longed to become invisible.
One woman I vaguely recognized as either a friend or relative of my mother-in-law approached me and patted me on the back. I looked to her face and expected a word of comfort. What I received, however, still shocks me to my core.
“I am so surprised you came today.” This is the part where I thought I would receive an endearing offer of support for a grieving aunt or even as a grieving mother. I searched her face for more.
“Miscarriages are so…gross. I wouldn’t want to be standing here having a miscarriage with everyone around.“
My eyes remained open but my mind began to shut down in an effort of self-preservation. I could not speak. I could not look at her face any longer. So I managed to tilt my head so she knew I heard her, yet move my eyes and body so she knew I had nothing to say. Eventually she left my side and I let out a slow exhale as the tears started to run from my open eyes.
Standing there I had the panicky feeling that everyone could suddenly see the bloody pad in my underwear. They knew I was still bleeding from my loss. I begged silently for a hole to open up and suck me away from this moment in time.
Is that what everyone thinks of me? That I should have stayed at home? That I should not be here?
A few relatives approached me throughout the evening, offering a hug or whispering, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was difficult to know whether or not they were speaking of my own loss of a child or of my loss of my nephew. Both were tragedies, but both were not openly spoken of that day. It started to make me feel as though my very presence was making people feel uncomfortable.
The funeral service at the church was numbing. I still had not contacted my own church because I honestly did not know if that is what women did. I have never heard of any services for women who experience pregnancy loss. So these prayers said for the loss of a child were the first real and tangible parts of a process that I didn’t know I longed for so much. The pastor kept using Colton’s name during the prayers, adding even more value to this fleeting life. In those moments I realized again that I had no name for my child. I wanted to say these prayers for both Colton and my own baby, so in my mind I repeated them twice – once for him and once for my child. It made me ache that I didn’t have a name for these prayers. I kept repeating “My Baby” but it seemed so cold, distant, and impersonal.
The day at the cemetery turned drizzly and the rain slid across the windows of the truck as we made our way home, running in sad, downward spirals, until they jumped off the edge. The grey sky seemed to press upon us, the weight was almost palpable to me. And then the name that I had prayed for, had wanted so that I could feel that I could pray, entered my heart, and it has always remained. Rayne. Ray is the family name – the same one that Colton just took as his middle name to his eternal resting place. Rain like the tears from Heaven sent to nourish the ground.
I needed a name for you. I needed to be able to call to you. I needed to be able to direct my prayers. Perhaps I need for you to have a name, because I could not give anything else to you. I could not give you the kind of life that seems noticed by the world. But you were noticed. You were cherished. You were loved. You were wanted. You were a part of my very heartbeat and now a part of my tears. You are like the rain that pours down from the dark sky. You are momentary, necessary, wanted.
I don’t know if you are a boy or a girl, but I know you as my child. I know you as the anticipation, the wonder, the extraordinary love that a mother feels for her child. You are my child. You are Rayne.
Though it has taken many years, I have been able to find the gifts hidden in the loss. While my faith was challenged, it was ultimately strengthened. And in efforts to help the next generation (and past generations) of grieving mothers, I’ve been able to work with Wings of Hope – where an engraved stone with the name Rayne now reminds me of what was lost, but that there is also deep and rich hope in that loss. In many ways Wings of Hope is what I wish I would have had. I wish I would have had access to a place such as Mankato Mortuary. I wish I would have had a process. I wish I would have had access to support and a way to memorialize my child. My wishes have turned into reality for many others, and gives me hope that the next generation of women will have some measure of peace during such difficult times.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all. ~ Emily Dickinson
10/14/2016 11:06:22 am
Beautiful Chris .... thank you for sharing your precious story.
4/29/2017 01:40:04 pm
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so sorry for all of your losses.
4/30/2017 09:45:11 am
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope that other women feel they can share their stories - helping to end the silence and stigma around pregnancy loss.
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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.