I am from a large family. Both of my parents are from large families. I don’t think that I ever questioned my intention to have children–or my expectation that I would. So, in 1999, when I was diagnosed with PCOS, a condition that creates multiple health complications–including possible infertility, I was stunned. In addition to the challenges of managing a chronic health problem, I was face to face with the possibility of not having children.
In 2004, I had the joyful surprise of a positive pregnancy test. I thought that I had dodged the odds and that maybe I could take away the power of that earlier diagnosis. I got to hear a heartbeat and see a beautiful little person moving about on the sonogram.
And then. Then there was the appointment when there was no heartbeat. Then there was the sonogram where there was no movement. Then there was a flurry medication and induced labor. Then there was the recognition that I was spending Mother’s Day weekend delivering a baby who had died. Then something that had been a dream became a nightmare.
I don’t remember much–they told me later that I almost died too. I have hazy memories of heat and pain and tears. I know that I wanted to know when I could wake up and have my life back. I remember holding my tiny, perfect little boy–whose fingers and toes were all there, but whose heart just quit working.
It took over a month for my body to heal, for the doctors to release me from the activity restrictions and pronounce me ready to return to real life. But the rest of the healing–that seemed like it was never going to happen. Seeing pregnant women hurt me. Seeing newborn babies hurt me. Sunshine and laughter hurt me.
I think that, maybe, I didn’t want to heal. It felt like healing meant letting go. It felt like healing meant saying that it was okay that my son died while other babies were born into homes where they would be abused or neglected.
I stumbled through life. My body went to work, my body did chores at home–sometimes. I was moody and tearful–most of the time. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t actually participate in most of my relationships. I was too trapped in the darkness inside of my head and my heart. The broken spaces that felt like they could never stop hurting. The ugly spaces that resented everyone who had what I had lost.
Looking back now, I know that most of my family and friends were frightened for me. They grieved the loss of my son, but they also worried that they were losing me. I don’t think that their worries were exaggerated or off base. I was feeling pretty lost myself. I know that, even if I wasn’t suicidal, I wasn’t very committed to my life at that time.
A Path to Light
Finally, in desperation, eight months after our son died, my partner suggested attending a perinatal bereavement support group. And in that group, I (and we) found our path out of the dark. Everyone sitting around that table, including the facilitating therapist, had lost children. They understood my grief, my anger, my despair, my frustration. They passed the Kleenex, and didn’t suggest that maybe I should just “be over it” by now. They helped me feel found–and accepted. They acknowledged my son as a real person and my grief as real grief.
Between the group and the individual support sessions, I found my way back to myself. I allowed myself to think about a future, to plan for children, to redefine my world. It wasn’t easy or fast. I never approach Mother’s Day weekend without some sadness. I am a different person than I was before the darkness.
I didn’t choose to share this story so that you would be sad with me. In fact, I have a loving partner, and beautiful children (there are lots of ways to make a family). I would never have chosen my time in the darkness, and I know that because of it, I am kinder and more compassionate. I value life more than I did before.
I chose to share this story because my darkness was changed by the presence of good mental health care. Without that group, my outcome may have been different. If you only take away one thing, I hope it is this: we will all face dark times, and we all deserve good support to find our way through them. If you are in the dark, please don’t hesitate to reach out, to me or to other resources, for the help you deserve.