By: Guest Blogger, AnaMaria Kurcab
I’ve been loaned five healthy sons, now all in their 20s. They are part of the beautiful tapestry that is my life, and they have each changed the world for the better. There is much tangible evidence that they exist. I was also loaned three other children, one male and two of unknown gender, whose lives intersected mine for only a short while, changed my life and fulfilled their personal purposes without leaving much tangible evidence…a small baby plot in a cemetery in Michigan, a baby book with three Polaroids, a set of footprints and an ID bracelet, some data and lots of poetry and prose I wrote in my grief.
The first of these children that I carry only in my heart, was born dead in 1990, due to my incompetent cervix dilating before he was ready to live outside of my womb. We named him Zion. The second and third of these children were miscarried in 1998 and 2000, for unknown causes. They are called Surrender and Truth. I went through labor and birth with Zion, but not Surrender nor Truth.
The greatest fear I’ve ever faced is the thought of separation from my children. In each of their deaths, my heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces, but I’m proof that with God’s help, we can survive anything at all, and even thrive and be happy. I am privileged to have carried these children in the only earthly home they’ll know. I live with the expectation that I will see them again and that we will know one another.
In the USA there are more than 1 million pregnancy losses each year , 25% of conceptions end in the first trimester, and our stillborn rate is 1 out of 160 pregnancies; meaning that sooner or later most of us will deal with this type of loss. As I type this at the end of 2015, our culture still does a poor job of educating families as to ways of coping after such a loss and individuals as to how to help someone suffering something so unfathomable.
Although a quarter of a century has gone by since Zion’s birth/death, I remember the details of that day and the aftermath as if they had happened just a few years ago. Over these 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of helping several women through their own losses of this type. Here’s some of what I have learned that might be of help to others.
Give yourself time and space to grieve, reminisce, and connect with your child. Take time off from your regular work and cocoon as a family.
Journal, compose music or poetry, paint or draw. Create something in honor and memorial to your child. Write him or her letters. Cry as much as you need to. One day, probably sooner than you think, you will cry less, the triggers will be fewer…you will smile when you think of your child.
Don’t let anyone in the place where you birth dictate to you what you ought to do. Hold your baby, photograph him, bathe him, dress him, sing over him. Consider having your children, parents, and other important people in your life come to meet him. “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” is a wonderful organization that will connect you with a volunteer photographer who will come to you and give you the gift of beautiful photos of your baby. Contact them at nowilaymedowntosleep.org.
If you wish, have a burial or memorial service for your child. Do or don’t ask clergy to be present and/or speak. We chose to have our four and two year old sons at the burial, and composed the components of the service ourselves. This provided much closure for us.
In the seasons that followed, I had an ID bracelet with Zion’s name engraved on it for my husband to wear. I’ve also given a friend a necklace with the birthstone of the month in which she lost her baby. These pieces of jewelry provide a stone of remembrance for that child and that experience. My children and I made a Christmas ornament that first Christmas after our loss, featuring Zion’s name. We’ve lived in six different homes since that Christmas and every year hang that ornament on our tree. It’s as ifZion goes with us to our new states and homes.
Take great care of yourself. Survivor guilt may cause you to eat poorly, overeat or not eat, forget to exercise and sleep too little or too much. If your baby were with you, he’d want you to take the best care of yourself that you can. Honor him by doing so.
Read literature about the grieving process. If you find yourself needing more help, consider joining a grief support group, or contacting a perinatal hospice or grief counselor in your area. There are several good resources on line.
If you wish, talk about your baby to those you trust. Name him or her and refer to him or her by name. Do not retreat for longer than necessary: socializing may be the farthest thing from your mind, but your family and friends need you as they grieve and you need their support as well.
Understand that any feelings of guilt that you may have about what you did or failed to do leading to the loss of your child, are natural, but they are not based on reality. Life is not in our hands. It is bigger than us. We are merely recipients of its gifts.
Allow others to minister to you. I wrote this in Zion’s baby book: “Friends come by with food and household help, arms to hold and ears ready to listen. Cards, phone calls and flowers let us know that our grief mattered to others. Many people prayed for us, prayed that we would allow GOD to heal.”
One thing I do every year on Zion’s birthday is ask GOD to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to him for me. I don’t know if GOD does this or not, but it makes me feel better to ask.
Above all, let yourself be comforted. Your child matters. You will never forget him or her. He or she has changed you in profound ways. If you allow it, this experience of profound loss can become a beautiful memory that you treasure in your heart and one out of which you can comfort other hurting people.