The Ugly Side of Grief: A Journey of Faith

While I have been reassured of my faith throughout my grieving process, I still have to deal with the ugly side of grief. Anger, frustration, despair, guilt, failure. At the risk of being extremely vulnerable, I feel the need to share this ugly side in addition to the side of peace and thankfulness that I have already posted. This process hasn’t been all roses. Here are some ramblings that I have jotted down over the last several weeks:

I have been asked twice in the last couple weeks now how my pregnancy is going or when I’m due. It is so painful. A painful reminder that this journey through grief is a public one. I was so excited about a new baby I shared the news with all I encountered. My swollen belly shared the news for me as well. And now I have to be the bearer of bad news. I can’t be upset with them, although you’d think they’d realize I’m getting smaller (ever so slowly) rather than bigger. I can only pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

My body is the hardest thing to forgive. With Little Monster and Little Miss, it was easy to forgive my body. I had just had a baby. It takes time. Breastfeeding melts away the pounds, especially on restricted diets due to allergies. But now, I don’t have a baby to hold. I want it to go away as quickly as possible. I don’t want to wear maternity clothes as a reminder. I don’t have pre-pregnancy clothes that fit. I hate clothes shopping. I don’t want it to just stick around. I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror. My back, my legs, my belly. I want to look to the future, not to the past. My body keeps forcing me back. Why do I always have to gain so much weight during pregnancy?

And then my inward parts. My fertility is back. Great. I think. My body can bounce back. But now I hurt, and I’m bleeding again. Just like those early days. Just another reminder. It’s been so long. I don’t even know what’s normal. I just want to curl up and not feel.

I feel out of control. Like I can’t trust my thoughts, my emotions. I don’t know if I’m really feeling the things I say I am, or if I’m just saying them over and over to convince myself. To make myself believe the lie that I’m doing alright. I wonder if weeks, months, years down the road it’s all going to catch up to me and I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. If I’m going to look back and realize I didn’t grieve hard enough, long enough. Is it normal to feel like this? Like I’m just an actress in the movie of my life?

I stop to be still sometimes. To be quiet. To think. To have an inner monologue. To try to figure out what’s going on. I don’t trust myself. Everyone asks how I’m doing and I have no idea. I’m ok, I guess. I have good days, I have hard days. I’m fine one second and then I remember a lost hope. But what does that mean?

“When you get past the first trimester you’re safe and you can share your news!” Untrue. So very untrue. True, statistics show that your risk is much lower. But the truth is you are never really ‘out of the woods.’ So if there is a 3% chance of miscarriage in the 2nd trimester, you could become that statistic. You could do everything right and not have the baby you dreamed of, the baby you shared with friends and loved ones, who you hoped for, you planned your life around. Not only can you not control your baby’s growth and maturity in utero, you also can’t control it once they are born. Anything can happen then. Statistics for infant loss and beyond are much lower than your risk of miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, but you still are not safe from having to bury your own child. Ever. Once you live that truth, your innocence is stripped away. You can’t un-know this truth. You treasure each life, each breath, a little bit more.

It wasn’t a birth. It was a delivery. Of our deceased baby. There is no birth day. She wasn’t born. She died. And we don’t even know the date of death. She died before I held her in my arms. So we have a delivery day. A day of labor. I went through the whole birth process. Labor, delivery, recovery. But there was no birth.

We lost our baby. But I never lost my baby. She was in my belly the whole time. I didn’t misplace her. She stopped growing. Her heart stopped beating. She died. And I didn’t even know it. But she was always there in my belly. Lost dreams, lost hopes, lost desires. Yes. But lose my baby? Never. She went straight from my body to our Jesus. He’s rocking her for me. Holding my spot on the rocking chair until I get up there and rock my forever baby myself. That’s a new dream. I know where she is, I just have to get to her. She isn’t lost. She is a child of the covenant. For such is the kingdom of heaven.

I thought that if we had another baby we would finally have our home birth with no complications. That’s what Faith’s birth was supposed to be. But instead she was even more of an unexpected birth story than the first two. We really are good at creating unusual birth stories. And now, now we’ve lost the chance to ever try for that perfect home birth. Because we don’t know the cause of Faith’s death, I’m automatically high risk for any future pregnancies. From Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, “When your baby dies, you never get the chance to know the baby in the way that we normally think of knowing someone. But your hopes and dreams for this child have already become a part of your life. You have not only lost a child, you have lost the chance to see your baby grow, become a vital part of the family and realize his or her potential. Your baby’s death represents a deeply felt loss of a wished-for child, as well as a loss of your fantasies, hopes and dreams. Indeed, it represents a denial of part of your future, part of yourself.”

I have to remind Little Monster about once a week that there is no more baby in my belly. I know it is her way of processing, so I don’t get frustrated with her and only state the facts. But inside, I’m screaming, “Again?!? Why??” Last week it was while we put away the Pack n Play a friend’s baby used. “New baby can sleep in there when she comes?” “No, Sweetie, there’s no more baby in my belly.” Yesterday at Target, she saw sheets and she wanted them. I told her not today. That just wasn’t the purpose of our trip. The plan was to get bunk beds when the new baby was ready to move into the crib that Little Monster currently occupies. So in her little logic, she countered, “When new baby comes I can get them?” “Remember, there’s no new baby in Mommy’s belly.” “Yeah, but other new baby.” “But I don’t have another baby.” “But when you grow up you can have other baby.” “Yes, maybe I will.” How sweet, endearing, hopeful, and heartbreaking all at once. God bless her little three-year-old heart.

Thursday was an exceptionally hard day. Like the hardest since the first days after Faith’s delivery. It started with blood work drawn, our last ditch effort to find a cause of death. Then a frantic call from the neighbor thinking our pig was in labor (she wasn’t). Then Little Miss snagged Faith’s blanket with a Boingo (diaper fastener) and I don’t know if I can fix it. My brother left shortly after that, once the tears subsided. He had been visiting for a week to help with some big projects and the kids. I was so looking forward to nap time because insomnia hit the previous night. I finally got Little Miss asleep on my back and went to transfer her to her crib when I discovered Little Monster had spread coconut oil all over her body, and the rest of the full jar over her whole bedroom. Little Miss woke up as I dropped to my knees in despair. I closed the girls in their room. I laid in my bed and cried. Curled up and wailed. The girls came in to me for snuggles. Little Monster gave me a toy to help me feel better. Then Little Miss broke the chain to my beloved cross collection necklace. A neighbor dropped off food on my front porch after seeing my desperation on Facebook. Hubby was taking his contractor’s exam so I couldn’t call and complain about my day. I called someone for help, but got no answer. Then got a message from a friend asking to come over. Thank you, God. She brought her two kids to play. She sat on the couch and let me sob on her shoulder. She had me take a shower. I must have stunk with pig dirt all over me. She cleaned up the disaster. She forced me to stay in my room to take time for myself. She took the kids outside and I heard squeals of delight. Four little naked bodies played in the wading pool. I eventually joined them outside. I thank God for my friend. She turned my horrible awful day around. She helped with the mess, the kids, and let me just be. Just where I was in that moment. No questions, no judgement, just permission and space to grieve.

The ultrasound that showed our baby was small was on December 23. At the time she was in the 11th percentile for growth. The midwife received results within a few days, but didn’t contact me to let me know there was any concern, so I found out at the end of January at my regular appointment. She didn’t seem too concerned about restricted fetal growth and just said we would schedule another ultrasound a few weeks later to make sure she continued on the same growth curve. By then it was too late. I feel like had I known about the restricted growth earlier, like when she got the results, I would have gotten stricter about all the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy and maybe she would have continued to grow. But that’s not what happened so I’m trying to figure out how to deal with that giant what if. I’m mad at myself for being so relaxed about the “rules.” I had already had two healthy full term babies, so I didn’t stress as much about the foods I ate and had a drink here and there. I feel like those probably contributed. Since we don’t have a definitive cause of death I will always place some blame on myself. It’s so much easier to say that this was God’s plan all along and look at all the good that has come from it, and I do believe that, but I still have to deal with the what if and the guilt too. I know once I can let that go I can truly be at peace. So I’m working toward forgiving myself.

“Grieving is not a linear process.” No joke. I live life fairly normally, and then there’s a trigger, and I feel out of control again. I grieve all over again, for two minutes, or an hour, or a day, and then I remember that this is God’s plan, and I wonder what comes next. Because I know He has something else planned. Jeremiah 29:11-14 states, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”

This is the ugly side of grief. The part no one really wants to talk about. But it’s very real. It doesn’t mean that I wallow in self-pity all the time. It simply means that I have hard stuff to work through too. But somehow I make it through.

Sometimes words are spoken hundreds of times and all of a sudden they have transformed in your mind – “…. I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” (emphasis mine) A familiar scripture passage suddenly makes sense in the context of which it was written – Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Sometimes you sing the same song a hundred times when all of a sudden it holds new meaning. It becomes a prayer:

Lord I come to You, let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace that I found in You.
Lord, I’ve come to know the weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away by the power of Your love.

Hold me close, let Your love surround me.
Bring me near, draw me to Your side.
And as I wait, I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You,
Your spirit leads me on,
In the power of Your love.

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