It takes a torrential rain or windstorm to blow the last remaining leaves off the trees revealing what was so well-hidden in the uppermost branches throughout Spring and Summer: one, two, sometimes up to three bird’s nests. They vary in size and shape, and I have no idea if these nests were constructed just last year for a whole community of birds to share some space together, or if they’ve been there for years and yet are so sturdy as to withstand several winters. But one morning, after dropping my kids off at school I looked up from my parked car and this is what I saw:
Instantly, I thought of all the families who’ve been preparing in excited anticipation for their babies arrival only to end up with an empty nest. Whether it be through miscarriage, infertility or infant death, these families don’t get to celebrate all they’d hoped for when they began their parenting journey.
Truthfully, I’ve been sitting on this post since early Fall, wondering if I’m the “right” person to talk about this. After all, my husband and I have been extremely lucky in our personal parenting journey. But, despite writing dozens of other posts, this image of the empty nest and what it represents won’t quit me. And since I first made that connection I know several people who have experienced miscarriage and infant death personally. While I may not have experienced these things directly, I do know something about the pain of it – at least, vicariously.
Working in this field, miscarriage, infertility and infant death are realities. And after 17+ years and thousands of couples, I know families I work with who have experienced all of these things. Sometimes I’m privy to this information – a family will choose to share the details of their parenting journey with me. But oftentimes, I’m not.
As their Childbirth Educator, they might not feel comfortable sharing with me (or anyone else in class) their history of miscarriage as we’re just getting to know one another. So they remain silent about any struggles they might be having with their current pregnancy. Despite feeling especially vulnerable about the health and welfare of their baby, they might not be willing or able to reach out for support.
And even if I might have played an important role in their preparation to become parents, if a family has experienced infant death, this might be just too painful to share with anyone outside their immediate circle of support.
I respect a family’s desire to maintain their boundaries and privacy around such intensely personal events. Families should never feel pressured to share their parenting journey with anyone other than whom they choose.
I’m dedicating this poem/post to all of the families I’ve known, personally and professionally over the years who have suffered through miscarriage, infertility, or infant death as a part of their parenting journey. I’m not sure how often these realities are acknowledged. But I think they should be.
We want to scream it from the rooftops
But, we’ve done that before
And remember what happened last time
Parents and siblings trying on their new identities:
Grammie and Pops, Auntie Jen and Uncle Matt
Friends joking, “You’ll never sleep again!”
Instead we check the test results over and over again
Like a nervous tic
“Is that a plus sign?”
“Do you see one line or two?”
And we keep the news to ourselves
Silent, mute, anxiety-excitement
Heavy in our hearts
We won’t tell anyone
Morning sickness becomes all-day sickness
The baby starts moving –
We’re past that day, that week, that month
We need to feel the weight of the baby in our arms
The emptiness has been almost too much to bear
We can’t go through it again
Everyone else’s excitement crashing down
Heavy, crippling us under their collective grief
With the breath of hope caught in our throats
For the right moment to whisper
Only to a select few
“shhhhh – we’re pregnant.”
Please keep our secret – don’t tell anyone
Don’t get excited – don’t believe it
We don’t – we can’t
Every time I see a baby
My heart somersaults in my chest
And I wonder
“Why can’t that be me?”
If her baby is crying and she is frustrated, or angry, or too slow to respond
How much better I would be at this:
Because – I want it more
Because – I deserve it more
These are not rational thoughts
I’m not proud of these thoughts
But it is completely irrational that I’m not a mother
That we’re not parents
We’ve made the decision to stop trying
But we never decided that we didn’t want to have a baby
That was decided by someone – or something – else
And no matter what bargain we tried to strike
No matter what promises or prayers
We whispered long into the dark nights
Our arms remain
We still long to be parents
That desire doesn’t just go away –
That desire to be a family
Never goes away
When I came into this place I was a mother
Because my baby was still alive
Not of this world, yet
But alive in the world created inside me
I could feel my baby’s every movement
Stretching my belly skin taut like a drum
Pushing my ribs out of place
Tap dancing on my bladder
Beautiful pain and exquisite discomfort
Now only a ghost memory
How can we leave this place now?
We have a car seat, a stroller, a bouncy seat
And there is a room in our home
A room with a dresser, a crib, a changing table, a diaper pail
All of the trappings of what was supposed to be
Our new little family
How will we ever get through this?
The pain is hot and sharp
It pierces and stabs
The pain is cold and dull
It throbs and aches
A constant reminder of how much
We were willing to love
How will we
How can we
Ever allow our hearts to love this way again?
Know that I grieve deeply with you if you’ve ever experienced miscarriage, infertility or infant death. And while these are such painful realities of many parenting journeys, they deserve to be shared and talked about – if and when you are ready to do so. These experiences are important chapters of your parenting story.
One national resource that might help you process is Share: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support.
I’d also encourage families to consider individual and couples counseling. There are many therapists who specialize in working with families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.
Lastly, I’d like to remind all those who work with families to be aware that the parenting journey may include these painful issues and our families deserve our full support and compassion wherever they are in telling their stories.