Why is it that I am okay with the emotional place I am in following the loss of two children? What allows me to be “okay?” We made a heartbreaking choice about my first daughter after discovering she had a heart defect incompatible with life. That was in 1996, the day before I turned 30. At first, I thought I would die from the emotional pain that consumed my every breathing moment. But I didn’t. One of the biggest supports was the AHC *email listserv, and I was one of the first members.
My husband and I attempted instead to meet that goal we all know; being pregnant again by our due date. Luckily, we did. Jessa was born in May of 1997 and is a joy that I love daily. I didn’t enjoy the pregnancy, having had my innocence swept away the year before. I needed to have her out of my body and where I could see her. My early motherhood days could only be described as neurotic. I knew all the things that could go wrong and made sure I was trained in infant CPR. Slowly I relaxed as each day went by and she seemed to be okay.
When Jessa was about three, we decided it was time to start trying again. There are some things in life you just don’t look forward to. Being pregnant and going through that nervousness was definitely one of them. Unfortunately, we won the bad lottery again. This time it was Down syndrome, and was totally unrelated to the first loss. For many reasons, we made another heartbreaking choice. The placenta was so old when I delivered that there was no way the baby would have lived. This time I knew what to expect, and had the baby baptized. We would honor our children in death since we couldn’t in life. Another girl was buried. My cousin, the funeral home owner, began to dread my calls because he was so afraid I had more bad news. The doctors told us how unusual we were statistically. I was tempted to play lotto.
People did not know what to say. I even had difficulty talking to those who were experienced in dealing with perinatal loss. I was the start of a new trend, double AHCs. We planned again on getting pregnant by the due date. This time it didn’t work. The emotional pain was horrible, but not as bad as the first time. I knew things could go wrong, and had no innocence to lose. Of course, I spent plenty of mornings on the way to work crying. I had also had a successful birth following an AHC. However, I was not giving up. The minute some poor stranger mentioned their child was adopted, I was asking them millions of questions.
What kept me going was keeping some sort of control in my life. I decided to have two children, and that was the way it was going to be. Whether it was by birth or adoption, I would get my wish. Luckily, fate dealt us a kind blow and I had Jenna. Now I would never get pregnant again, even if you paid me. I tell people we are on the “every other baby making it” plan, and God knows what disorder we would be hit with next time in baby roulette. I also work and want to provide the best for my children, which sort of limits the number I choose to have.
As I write this, we are approaching the ninth anniversary of the loss of my first daughter. I am okay with that. She will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will put flowers on her grave. I won’t cry or dread the day anymore, and have been okay with the deaths for years. I am okay with my losses, but probably a little more neurotic in life. The girls and I get frozen lemonades and then stop by the graveyard where family members are buried. We have a nice time. Once Jess could read, I told her about her sister since the name was on the headstone. She had a tough time with the second loss, and we let her name the baby. Jessa initially wanted to name her “California,” but I said no. Thank goodness she settled on Michelle.
The emotional pain of losing a child was like breaking a leg. At first the pain was incredible. Then it slowly dulled a bit, but was always there. Finally, some days I felt fine. Now, I get little twinges of the surrealism that was the experience of losing my children. I feel bad for myself because it seems like something awful out of a movie.
As hard as it is to say, my life is better for losing the children. I am more compassionate and understanding. I appreciate Jessa and Jenna more than I ever would have without realizing how hard it can be to have a child that lives. I tear up in movies just sitting with them, as well as when I put Jessa on the bus. I have kept my sense of humor through it all.
How I found the way to get through the horrible loss was to have some sort of plan. Don’t give up. Have a back-up plan, and another back-up plan. When you lose hope, you lose everything. Go to a support group. I still go to dinner with the friends I made through my support group. We don’t really talk about our losses now, but focus on our children and life in general. One of my best friends from the support group is still trying to have a second child. She is an incredible person for going on with trying after having more losses than I can describe. She does it by not giving up hope, and always having a plan for the next step she is taking. Humor does a great job at getting you through.
Lastly, do what you need to in order to survive. If you want to have a picnic at the cemetery on an anniversary, then that is fine. Everybody grieves so differently, and it is all okay. Life can hand you some unexplainable horrors, but you can survive and be okay with it all over time.
I got through this and I hope that sharing my experience will help you see that you can too.
*Editor’s note: The AHC email List Server was run through Yahoo, and is no longer functional. If you are interested in joining An AHC support group, please consider joining our Discussion Forums here: Official “Heartbreaking Choice” Discussion Groups