New Empathy for Grandparents

Often it's hard to fully appreciate what a person is going through until you find yourself experiencing something similar.

When Monica and I were dealing with various pregnancy complications during the childbearing years, I was so focused on my own stress that I did not give a great deal of thought to what that must have been like for my parents. Now that my daughter, Emily, is pregnant with her third child and experiencing the complications of preterm labor at 22 weeks, I am gaining a new understanding.

Personally, Monica and I dealt with the loss of Emily's twin, Kathleen's stillbirth, a molar pregnancy, an early miscarriage, and an abysmal prenatal diagnosis, but never had problems with preterm labor. We had a loss between each of our 4 living children, and our youngest daughter, Maggie, was the one where prenatal testing suggested she would not survive after birth. In that case, we got lucky and she was fine.

In part because we live in Minnesota and Emily and her family live in Arizona, Monica and I find ourselves worrying about what is going on or might happen, and feel guilty that we can't be there to help out. Every time their phone number pops up on my cell phone, my heart races a little and I have to swallow hard before I answer. On the couple of occasions that it was Emily or Bryant calling to say they were heading to the hospital to be checked, I find myself going into "Mr. Positive" mode, assuring them that probably everything is fine, but it's always good to go in to the doctor or hospital  if they are worried. My parents often played that role with us, and I guess in part that is why I did not really think those times were all that difficult for them. To be honest, I just didn't think a lot about it.

So, if you find yourself frustrated with your parents fretting or irritated with their erratic behavior, take a minute to think about what this experience is like for them. I can vouch for the fact that it's very difficult seeing your own kids stressed and scared, knowing there is not a alot you can do to help!

"They Were Still Born" - NEW BOOK

They Were Still Born, By Janel Atlas: I was pleased to be asked to contribute a chapter to this new book, which is a compilation of personal reflections on stillbirth. It's a beautiful book filled with a variety of perspectives from those who have lived through this tragedy. Available from Amazon.

Living through the holidays

At a time of year when we all feel like we should be happy, light, grateful, and giving, it can be overwhelming to feel sad, angry, and less than generous. Anyone can experience these emotions, but when you are facing the holidays for the first time after a significant loss, the feelings can be downright daunting.

I have written about the holidays before on here and don't want to repeat what you can already find on this blog, but I do want you newly bereaved parents to know that there are people out here who understand at least some of what you are experiencing, and I hope you will reach out for help if you feel the need. For those of you who have already lived through the first year or two after the death of your baby, one of the greatest gifts you can give this holiday season is to offer your own story of hope and survival. Experts can write about this stuff until they are blue in the face (and what they have to say is very valuable) but often bereaved parents want to hear directly from other bereaved parents. They want to know of someone who can relate to them on that very personal level of having been there. They simply want to hear words of understanding from those who have walked this path.

It's been many years since Kathleen died on that beautiful late September afternoon, but in all the Christmas seasons we have lived through since then, I have not been able to avoid a one where at some point it strikes me how hopelessly sad I was that first year. For me, that memory most often hits me when we are sitting in church on Christmas Eve, listening to music and seeing all the little kids barely able to contain their excitement as they bounce up and down in their Christmas outfits. I love that part of the holiday, but I recall all too well how guilty I felt for feeling anger when I witnessed that for the first time after Kathleen was born. The pain of knowing she would never be one of those kids, nearly tore me apart.

Today, I once again find joy in that vision and comfort in the belief that our child is safe and happy. While that has worked for me, each of you must find your own peace in your own timeframe. Allow yourself to feel your sadness, but do not ever give up hope that your life can be happy again. I firmly believe your baby would not want any less for you.

NOTE: Here are links to some resources that might be helpful (copy and paste link in your browser):