There is a community of mothers who have experienced unimaginable tragedy, the loss of a child. They have been to hell and back and are forever changed. Three mothers agreed to share their stories and answer our questions candidly and with grace. Their experiences are sure to take your breathe away, to inspire you, and to send you running to hug your children and never let them go. We are truly thankful for their courage to speak openly and honestly about the worst day in their lives and the rest of the days that have followed.
Tell us about Elisabette.
Elisabette, or Bettie, is my daughter that I never had the chance to meet. A year ago my family and I experienced a late term pregnancy loss.
What do you wish people understood about losing a child?
Losing our daughter was a life-changing trauma. Any other hardships I had been through did not compare to the pain and sadness that I have experienced from losing her. It affected every aspect of my life. It was like the lens that I used to look at life through was forever changed. I so deeply wanted people to understand what I was going through, but knew there was no way they could unless they had experienced it themselves. Even though my baby was never born, she was already a deep part of me, my husband, and my son. I consider her to be my child, that I have 3 children, two living and one angel-that is my reality, but it may be hard for people to understand that.
How has losing Elisabette impacted your marriage?
Ultimately, I think that our loss brought us closer together. Initially we really bonded through the loss and now I feel closer than I ever have with my husband. That being said, men and women grieve in such different ways and that can be confusing when you are dealing with so much. I definitely needed more emotional support from him during this past year than I have ever needed. I felt needy at times, but it also helped me reach out more to him and learn what was going on with him (and his feelings surprised me many times.)
How do you balance the sadness of your loss with the happiness of watching your older son thrive and grow?
For me it was important to hold sadness and happiness together. They were side by side. The joy of watching my 2-year-old grow, begin school for the first time, and learn new things was with me every day, but so was the grief. To me that was the only way to be; I had to be honest, I had to be real.
What was it like to be pregnant after losing Elisabette?
Being pregnant after losing Elisabette was HARD and multilayered. I also felt really blessed to have the opportunity to be pregnant again. I am going to break it down to three categories: fear, grief, and triggers.
Fear: It was next to impossible not to be fearful during my pregnancy after loss. I had a 1 in 4 chance of the genetic issues that affected my daughter to happen again. We wouldn’t know until 16-weeks if the baby was affected. But even when we got good test results back we were fearful of the next. Once you become a part of the pregnancy/infant loss community you know too well the complications that can occur; medical and spontaneous. How to handle that fear is difficult, in the beginning I tried to detach, but further along I was bonded and just anxious for the bottom to drop out.
Grief: Grieving the loss of one baby while hoping for the health of a new baby is complicated. When I would get good results back from a test or ultrasound, I would be so relieved, but also saddened. I felt immense sadness that Elisabette wasn’t healthy and that I didn’t get positive results back while pregnant with her.
Triggers: Being pregnant again was the biggest reminder that I had lost my daughter during pregnancy and there was no way around that. There were so many things that triggered grief during my pregnancy after loss. A pregnant belly is like an invitation for the world to ask personal questions and these questions were a constant barrage of reminders that I had lost a baby. “Is this your first?” or “How many children do you have?” Well meaning questions that made me gulp for air. How do I answer this person? Do I give the truth and say it is my 3rd child, but what if they ask me how old my children are and then I have to say one of them is in heaven. On the other hand, if I don’t answer truthfully I am not acknowledging Elisabette and she is my child.
Also, “Do you know what you are having?” I was having a boy. Having to answer that question on a daily basis was a reminder that I was not having a girl. My baby girl was in heaven and hopefully I would soon be the mother to two healthy boys. Those were just some of the examples of the constant triggers.
How Has Elisabette’s passing changed you?
An event like this changes you forever, I think. There is no way to be the person that you were before, because when trauma happens to you, you realize that bad things do happen and it is completely out of your control. That is a scary realization. On the other hand, I appreciate even more the amazing blessings I do have. I truly cherish every day I have with my two sons and husband, even when things get hard, that love is always there keeping me grounded. I’m also way more aware of the hardships people go through, much more empathetic – you kind of realize times when you didn’t understand what someone else was going through, but now you get it.
My life will never be the same. My only daughter, Finley died in a tragic medical accident at a hospital and my husband left two weeks later. By the grace of God, I’m still standing two years later. As a result of almost zero resources in Central Florida, I started The Finley Project, a 7 Part Holistic Program for mothers who lose infants. We are the only organization in the country that approaches Infant loss the way we do. http://Www.thefinleyproject.org