Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Sitting with my daughter this morning, watching the Macy's Parade, on comes a float called something like "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends."

Charlotte turns to me and says, quite softly, "I have an imaginary friend."

"You do?" I said. "I didn't know that."

"Ben is my imaginary friend. Our baby that died."

"Is he your imaginary friend, too, Mommy?"

"Well, yes, honey, I suppose he is."

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Do You Wish?

After your babies died, what do you wish people had done - or not done - for you? What was the best thing anyone said to you, and what was the worst?

For me, the best thing anyone said to me was this: "I'm so sorry; I just don't know what to say." It was a huge relief for me and my husband to hear those simple words, and not have to listen to someone struggle to come up with something they felt was appropriate. And, honestly, if they hadn't been through the loss of a baby, they didn't know what to say, and I wanted them to acknowledge that rather than say something stupid.

It also really helped to have people bring us meals; we had no idea how much we would need that, and it was such a relief to be able to sit down to whatever had been given to us, and occasionally get to talk to someone outside of our immediate little world about mundane things, like the price of housing. I know it sounds silly, but sometimes we just needed to talk about anything but Ben.

The other thing I really appreciated was people checking in on the anniversaries - one month, six months, one year, Mother's Day - the hard days. Few did. And those who actually said his name and talked about him. They will all have my love and friendship for the rest of my life.

What about the worst things? Ah, relatives were responsible for most of those. "Use it as a learning and growing experience." Gack. If I hadn't just had a baby I would've hurled the coffee table at that particular person. "It's ok to be angry but try to move on." Yeah. 'Nuff said.

Or those who told me immediately after Ben died, "You'll have another baby." Well, I don't want another baby, I want this one. And then there were the people who said nothing at all, but looked at me with this look in their eyes - a look I can't really describe - of sorrow, sympathy, confusion, fear? I don't know.

All I really wanted was for people to say his name, to remember him. What about you?

Monday, November 12, 2007

That Time of Year...Again

So, yeah, it's that time of year again. No, not the holidays, though there is that; winter is approaching, and we're approaching the time of year when we lost Ben. Specifically, it was New Year's Eve when I delivered him, so four years ago right now I was 7.5 months pregnant and uncomfortable and starting to feel really ready to be done. Looking back, I can't believe I felt so anxious to be finished with pregnancy, but honestly, I didn't enjoy it. It was just hard and uncomfortable, and though I loved feeling my baby move inside me, I wanted to be able to walk up the stairs without huffing and puffing and sleep without heartburn or aching hips. I regret that I didn't appreciate that time more, but it wouldn't have made a difference to the outcome. That's the thing about parenting: there's always something to feel guilty about.

We've never really established a ritual around Ben's death; we have a lovely candle that friends gave us to commemorate him at his memorial service, and we light that on New Year's Eve for him, but we never do anything else. The first year we dropped our daughter off with friends for a sleepover and went to a hotel where we looked at his pictures, lit his candle and talked about him. Since then, it's all been hit or miss. Twice we've been with family, and his name hasn't been mentioned - though I don't really blame anyone for that, as we didn't mention him either. (Ok, maybe I blame them a little.) It's on his anniversary that I especially wish we had interred his ashes somewhere so that there was a place to go, to say a prayer, to say a few words, rather than attend to the cleaning, the cooking, the ordinariness of our daily lives.

This year my in-laws will be with us on New Year's Eve, as they were last year. I need to figure out something to do that will fill that hole in my heart that day, that will make me feel I commemorated him on his birthday. I realize that Ben doesn't care, but I do. I've just never figured out what would feel right. One thing we do like to do is make an annual donation to a charity: Save the Children is the one we've usually picked, and we also give money to the hospital where he was born. I like knowing that something good came out of his life, that somewhere in the world another set of parents doesn't go through the grief of losing a child because of our donation. Somewhere in the world a child lives because Ben died - and that means the world to me.

Monday, November 5, 2007

How Long Does it Take?

Right after Ben died, I remember asking a friend of mine how long I would feel this way. How long would this unbearable pain last, when would it stop hurting so damn much? The intensity of that pain was overwhelming, unlike any I'd experienced before and it didn't feel survivable.

Well, here I am, nearly four years later, and I did survive. Not that I necessarily wanted to some days, but I knew I had to, and I knew I would, ultimately, survive losing Ben. I've been reading lots of blogs recently, those that are listed in the Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss Directory, written by mothers who lost children some time ago, and by mothers who lost babies only recently. The recurring theme in all of them, and here, is the pain.

Nobody tells you what to expect after a stillbirth. Oh, they can generalize about the stages of grief and the physical manifestations of your pregnancy - the leaking breasts full of milk, the fatigue and sleeplessness, the depression. But what about speaking to the pain in our hearts? Only fellow parents of stillborns can speak to that.

In my first post on this blog, I quoted a Carly Simon song and wondered if the lyrics she sang were true: "there's more room in a broken heart. " This is what I can tell you I believe: there is always pain after you lose your child. The first year is the worst, but as you get through all of the seasons, all of the holidays and anniversaries, as you grieve that missing child, you are getting stronger. As the years pass, the pain remains, but it becomes manageable, it becomes part of who you are, much as my blue eyes and blonde hair are part of who I am. I think of Ben every day, so much so that it surprises me sometimes until I remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" amount of time for me to think of him. He's my son, and I think about him as much as I think about my other two children. It doesn't take forever to get over the pain, though while you're in the thick of it it feels that way. It takes however long it takes, and though you are still left with that broken heart, I believe that brokenness opens you up, if you let it, and shows you what there is to appreciate in this world. I believe my broken heart makes me love even harder, hug my children longer, do more for others in need because I know how precious this life is.

I appreciate so much more since Ben died. I try harder to do good things. I try to take each day and find the joy in it, because I chose, after many months of grieving, to take that brokenness and make something better with it. I don't always succeed - and no one could. While I had him, he brought me great love and I am so glad I got to be his mom. I would change the outcome of his time with us if I could; instead, I am taking what I got - a broken heart - and trying to live better because of him.