My experience of loss and love
A woman screams. Not from the physical ache of birth but from the emotional pain of being told that her baby has died. And I am so, so, sorry for her pain. The tears begin to spring from my eyes and I realize that the woman I am looking down upon is me.
I lay upon a hospital triage bed while my midwife and nurses try to find my baby’s heart beat with what I falsely believe is faulty equipment. My hopes rise as the OB asks Troy, my husband and partner to come stand behind the ultrasound screen to watch. But then she asks if I’ve been drinking alcohol or taking street drugs. I am nervous at what this line of questioning is getting to. Of course I haven’t been doing either! But regardless of my squeaky clean record, the ultrasound machine declares “fetal demise”.
I beg to be put out under general anaesthetic so that the baby can be taken from me and I can pretend that this has never happened. Wouldn’t it be easier if I could erase the last eight months?! But…but…The wise, kind women who surround and support me, begin to bring life to images of my child that I will give birth to. They remind me that my baby will be stillborn but my baby will still be born
In that moment, I feel hope. Who is this little one that stirred inside me? What will we name him or her? Will my baby look like me or Troy or both of us? Love, love, love grows and grows and grows inside me until I feel like I will explode.
At 7:50pm on a Monday evening, I meet my little girl for the first time and I am so in awe of her. We name her Kierin Alexis and hold her, dress her and take photos so we can remember every single fleeting moment. Family comes and shares tears and smiles with us. And time passes until we have to let her go and say goodbye.
I’ve missed a year of your life. I have imagined you in my dreams, the beautiful little girl you would be. No longer an infant but a toddler – standing, walking, giggling. It breaks my heart over and over to know I’ve missed these things. A woman once said to me, “At least you didn’t have to hear her laugh or see her smile and lose all that.” And my response, if I had had the strength, would have been, “At least you got to hear her laugh and see her smile and experience all that.” Is there a good time for loss? No. It hurts at 6 weeks gestation, it hurts at 32 weeks gestation and it hurts at 5 months old.
Sometimes I feel like a yo-yo going up and down, side to side, and all around with emotions. It’s September again, your birth month, and all those desperate emotions I had in the beginning have come flooding back. I can feel it in the air – the news, the television premieres, the Indian summer and the way the sun sets. It is an all too painful reminder of our loss and a reminder that this pain will never go away. And that is okay because then I will never forget you.
A year ago when I eulogized you, I was in shock. I should be grateful for that because I could not allow myself to feel that depth of sorrow all at once. Over time, the Universe, God, has given me a little more and a little more to handle. Sometimes, like at 6 months, that little bit seemed too much though. Life didn’t exist without you in my every waking thought. There wasn’t a day that didn’t go by without tears. The ifs, the whys, the hows!!! And then slowly over the next six months again, I began to discern some of these - even sometimes realizing that there really is no reason at all.
Time went by and before I knew it, I really could smile and laugh again. I could remember you, my daughter and not cry at the very mention of your name. I could delight in your memory – the tons of hair adorning your head, the big hands that proved to us somehow that you wouldn’t always be so little, and most of all, the immense love you brought us.
“The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes,
But it never fails to bring music to my ears,
If you are really my friend,
Let me hear the beautiful music of her name,
It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.”– author unknown
There is another baby growing in my tummy! I can’t help but compare every little thing about this pregnancy with my pregnancy with you. How much nausea I feel, how tight my pants fit right from the beginning, how much my breasts have grown. I asked your daddy the other day, “Are we going really going to get a baby out of this?” He could only reply, “I don’t know.”
I have dreams of blood and miscarriage and forgetting to take care of my baby. No one helps me when I scream for help. At first I was on cloud 9 and so happy to be out of the “trying to conceive” hell that I forgot everything else – I even “forgot” about you. I want to cry and scream at myself for the neglect I feel for you not being in my every thought but people tell me that you are happy for me, that my little angel is giving me a big hug and exclaiming, “Yay Mommy!” Twenty three weeks to go. This is going to take forever.
We knew right from the beginning that this was going to be your brother. The ultrasound technician confirmed it for me though because I need to bond with this little one before he is born. You know, “just in case”.
Daddy had often said in our hurry and haste to get pregnant again, “Kierin is looking for the perfect sibling to send us.” Well I am glad that he is on his way! This little boy kicks A LOT and that is the most reassuring feeling in the world. I am going to do this. I am going to have a baby. Just because my belly has dropped at 37 weeks doesn’t mean low amniotic fluid, right? Oh man, I’ve become one neurotic mama! Please God, just keep my son safe.
And he was. Born safely and strong early on a Saturday morning – our Roan David Griffin.
14. The number of years it has been since I gave birth to you.
14. The number of years I’ve looked at my clock at 9:17 (the month and day of your birth) and said in my head or whispered aloud, “Hi Kierin"
14. The number of years I have never forgotten you, and the number of years I have had to ponder and understand your passing.
I have reached out to wise women, shaman, counsellors and groups. I’ve read articles and studies about loss in detail that could make me a forensic scientist. I’ve talked to you as an angel and as a gravestone and sat in meditation, listening to my deep intuition. All to get answers to the whys. But the one consistent message that I keep getting is that you stayed with me as long as you could. There was an agreement between our souls. Maybe it was in order for me to go on and have 4 other children in my life. Maybe there was no fucking reason at all.
But it is not just me and Daddy now remembering you. Your 3 brothers and 1 sister talk about you all the time, as if you are here – because you ARE a part of our family. From the moment they were each born, they knew about you and we celebrate your birthday every year with cupcakes and a family picture at the place you are laid to rest. Your siblings also often ponder what it would be like to have their older sister here on earth. The boys say that you would be an annoying teenager that only wants to talk to her friends and play on her iPad. Your sister says that you would play dress up and barbies with her. I think they are all right.
I think your intention was love. People are often puzzled when I say that the day you were born was the worst and the best day of my life. It was as if I gave birth to my heart that day. You were my past, my present and my future and in the beginning I felt like I lost them all. But I realize now that I didn’t lose any part of them – they were all a part of me. They wrote my story - one so rich in love and hope that it inspired a career change in me to become a doula. One that inspired a friend who previously didn’t want children to open her heart and feel it grow so enormously that she birthed two beautiful children at home. One that inspired me to support other women experiencing loss. One that inspired me to look into my own spirit and embrace my own weaknesses.
Kierin taught me love. She taught me life. She taught me family. She taught me forgiveness
I didn’t just experience loss. I experienced love.
Angie Stenback, is the mother to Kierin, Roan, Gavin, Kale and Neive. She is also a birth doula, childbirth educator, fitness trainer and co-founder of The WOMB.