Each year a perinatal advocate named CarlyMarie hosts a challenge called CAPTURE YOUR GRIEF to coincide with National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month. Capture Your Grief is a 31-day photographic challenge. I have been excitedly waiting for CarlyMarie to unveil this years’ challenge, but sadly I think this year’s challenge has been canceled. So I have decided to take things into my own hands and complete the challenge that was posted seven years ago, back in 2013. My goal this year is to be authentic. Sometimes I feel like I sugarcoat what life is like without Emilia. Sometimes it’s just easier to put on a front that life is great, when in fact all you are doing is trying your best not to fall apart. I think all of the craziness of 2020 has just compounded all the grief and it makes life that more difficult. My focus this year is to show you that life after loss is hard and that it is okay to not be okay. So here we go…
“Grief opens a place in our hearts that we never knew could hurt so profoundly, but it also opens this same place to a love we never imagined possible.” Time doesn’t heal anything… it just teaches us how to live with the pain. I am taking each day of October to allow everyone to follow my journey through my own personal story of grief and love. I promise that you will see a little bit of everything… the good, the bad, and even the ugly. Lord knows my world has been filled with many ups and downs as I struggle to comprehend why Emilia was taken from me and I think it is important that the world sees the real struggle from a mom who had to give her baby back to the Lord.
1. SUNRISE RITUAL | I don’t have a photo of today’s sunrise, because to be honest, everything about today has just gone horribly wrong. I can be kinda ridiculous at times. I’ll put a lot of emphasis on special days and for me, October 1st is a pretty special day. I countdown to October each year. Yes, it’s my birthday month, I love fall, and all things pumpkin spice and Halloween. But I largely look forward to October because it is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Month. I’ve put October 1st high up on a pedestal and when today didn’t measure up to how I expected it should go… well it just all went south rather quickly. I think a common trait among loss parents is craving opportunities to speak up about our children who have passed. Every day should be an appropriate time for us to talk about our children, but Pregnancy & Infant Loss Month surely should be one of the greatest excuses for us to… I dunno… be allowed to talk about Pregnancy & Infant Loss. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I learned really quickly after Emilia died that people just don’t want to hear it and today was going to be no exception. I can talk for days about my other two daughters, but the moment I mention Emilia’s name, I get the impression that I’ve opened a dialogue that nobody else wants to be apart of. So the goal I am setting for myself today (and every day after) is to stop caring about what other people think and to finish this challenge proudly. Last year I got maybe a week into this same challenge, gave up, and took the post down because I felt that nobody cared and that all I was doing was annoying people. This year I am going to talk about my baby and give zero cares as to whether people want to hear it or not! I have a right to share Emilia’s story and I am going to allow myself to do that without feeling guilt on whether that is okay or not. Spoiler Alert, it is and always will be okay. The plea I am asking for those who have never lost a child is to be compassionate this month. Don’t be quick to cast judgments on pregnancy and infant loss families and be more than just present when they want to say their child’s name out loud.
2. CHILD OF MINE | Emilia Madeleine Rose Clough. I know I am biased, but man, my husband and I hit the jackpot picking out Emilia’s full name! I remember right after she died being mad that I would never ever get the opportunity to be mad at her. A weird emotion to have, I know, but it is what it is. Growing up, one of the few times you had your full name thrown around was when you did something bad and you were about to get grief for it. When Emilia died, I was so angry that we had strung together such a beautiful name and that I would never get to hear her name said out loud. There for a while, I was known to randomly yell out her name… not necessarily because I was mad, but because I wanted to hear her name spoken. My takeaway from all of this… if you have a friend or family member who has suffered a tremendous loss (no matter how much time has passed since their death) please say their loved one’s name out loud. I know it has been said time after time before and it will definitely be said an infinity of times hereafter, but this is truly the best gift you could ever give to someone that has experienced loss. Saying Emilia’s name out loud is a validation of her existence. It’s you telling me that you have not forgotten her and that her memory still lives on. My greatest fear is that Emilia will be forgotten. And that come one day, to the world, it will feel as though she never even existed.
3. TWILIGHT OF MEMORY | In past challenges I would have chosen one of my more uplifting moments to share. I would have talked about how Emilia sends me signs or how she has turned me into a better person. While those are real memories of mine, I want to shed light on some of my not-so-glamorous moments in connection with my loss. Most of us have heard about The Kubler-Ross Model – Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think the majority of us accept that these stages go in no particular order and that grief is not linear. Just as quickly as you think you have accepted your loss, you begin to jump around between each stage not knowing where you will land next. Now let’s play all of this out on a 3.5 year (and counting) loop and we have got ourselves a pretty accurate model of what MY grief looks like. One memory of mine that sticks out is while I was in the hospital still pregnant with Emilia. At this point, I knew she was no longer alive and I was waiting for my csection that was scheduled for the following morning. The nurses knew my emotional journey was just beginning and they had encouraged me to take some medication that would help me sleep throughout the night. I was stubborn and refused to be sedated. I worried the medication might make me groggy and I wanted to be fully aware of everything that would happen during and after Emilia’s birth. As the nurses probably suspected, I didn’t sleep a wink that night. The next day was busy! How do you fit a lifetime of memories with your baby into one day? We took photos, we gave Emilia her first bath, we had her baptized, and so much more. There was no time to sit still and to process the grief. Not when your whole entire life is cradled in your arms and you know that all too soon you’ll have to say goodbye. So I cherished and lived in those moments. Come that evening, Emilia was taken to another room for the night and I finally agreed to take the medication. It worked well and within minutes I was in a full slumber. My entire day had been filled with so much that my body wasn’t fully able to process all of the emotions it was experiencing until it had a decent night’s rest. When I woke the next morning, all the suppressed emotions came to a front and I began sobbing uncontrollably. As quickly as the cries poured out, my body was filled with extreme pain. I had just had major abdominal surgery and each outcry sent my body into excruciating pain. I quickly learned that in order to control the pain on the outside, I was going to have to contain the pain on the inside. This memory is quite a stark representation of how society handles grief. I have a natural instinct to want to include Emilia in everyday conversation when I talk about my family. I don’t want to put a negative spin on it, I just want to let others know I have another daughter and also explain how special she is to me. When I feel others shut down or not be very receptive, it takes me back to that hospital memory. I feel like the world is so quick to forget Emilia because her story is largely sad. The world (in so many ways) is just like my painful csection incision… I am forced to remain silent when all I want to do is “cry out” and honor my baby. Do we, as a society, realize how badly we are addressing grief and therefore promoting healthy mourning? Real change needs to be made in order to provide the appropriate care that our mourning loved ones need and deserve.
4. HEART CONNECTION | 3.5 years later and yes, I still do feel connected to Emilia. That is the wonderful thing about love, It’s an unbreakable bond. When asked this question there is one quote that comes to mind that I really feel sums this up so much better than I ever could. I hope this quote touches your heart and soul just as deeply as it has mine.
“Sometimes in life there are losses. Losses that can never really be replaced. Losing you has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to live with. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to let you leave. I would give anything for just one more day, just one more second. But I’ve learned to trust in unconditional love. Because the one profound thing about death is that love never dies. Some bonds cannot be broken. Because even though you’re not physically here, your heart is — it lives on within me. I carry your heart inside mine. I carry it on days when I discover something new. I carry it on days when beauty unfolds in the most unexpected places. I carry it on days when I find courage to heal and to grow. I carry it with me — always. Someday we will meet again — and we will no longer be separated by time or space. But until that day, I’ll find comfort in knowing that you are still with me. Your heart safely tucked inside mine. Some hearts just belong together and nothing will ever change that. I loved you then. I love you now. Always did. Always will. Forever in my mind. Forever in my heart. I will carry you.” -Bryan Anthonys
5. FRIENDSHIP | My family has been there for me since the day I found out Emilia had died. I’ve been able to share everything with them, knowing that they will never judge me. They have seen me at my very best and they have seen me at my very worse. My family has never tried to take away my pain. They just sit with me in my grief, listen, and validate my feelings. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. It’s so easy to feel misunderstood and alone when you have completely lost yourself in grief. Find people who will truly accept you for who you are… the kind of people who know your worth and show it to you not just during your best moments, but your worst moments too. Find the kind of people who will get down and messy in the trenches of grief with you and shower you will grace and love. My family has done all of that and so much more! I’m so lucky to have each of them in my life!
6. GRATITUDE | I am grateful for Emilia. Yes, I wish she were still here with me. Yes, I wish she would have never died. But despite all the pain, I am so grateful to have her a part of my life. I would do it all over again knowing that in the end, she would still die because the love I share for Emilia trumps all grief. She is worth all the pain and one day I will see her again and we’ll never have to say goodbye ever again.
7. INHALE + EXHALE | Today is like a Capture Your Grief Free Day. This awareness month can become overwhelming quickly so instead of pouring your heart out, take today to look after yourself and your mental health. Be mindful of your breathing. Take some time out in nature today and just breathe. Recharge.
8. EMPATHY | I think there is something to be said about people who have experienced great loss. They lose so much of themselves, yet they also gain qualities that allow them to be more compassionate and empathetic towards others. After experiencing death, you are more aware and more understanding of what other people are going through, even if their scenario is vastly different from your own. I think it’s hard not to have empathy when you look back and remember just how hard life was when your child died. For a moment I “try” to place myself in their shoes and I can almost imagine the pain and grief they are feeling because I have been there too. We know that grief has no timeline. We know that grief is relentless. We know that there are no words in the English dictionary that can take away the pain. So we sit with them. We sit with them and we don’t hold them to a schedule where grieving is okay one moment and suddenly not okay the next. We don’t judge them for their feelings or for the way they express their grief. We don’t throw platitudes at them to try to take away their pain, cause let’s be real, nothing in this world can ever begin to chisel away a fraction of their pain and grief. This messy, new life is here to stay. The question is: Who in your life is falling apart and could use you to lean on during their time of grief? Will you stick around for the long haul or will you leave them to find solace on their own? Because not being alone and being validated is all anyone really wants and needs when their life feels destroyed.
9. DAY DREAMS | I think we all have imagined what life would be like with our children beside us rather than in Heaven. Emilia would be almost 3-years and 7-months-old had she had lived. I wonder every day what she would be like. Would she still have the beautiful strawberry-blonde hair she was born with or would it have lightened to a pale blonde? What about the color of her eyes? Surely, they would be blue like the rest of our family. Would she be ornery and feisty or would she be calm and complaisant? Would she be small and petite like her sisters or defy her family genes and tower over our entire brood? Who would she have grown up to be… maybe an accomplished artist or a lawyer? I will never know what kind of person Emilia would have been. I will spend a great deal of the rest of my life using my imagination to visualize who Emilia Madeleine Rose Clough is and what kind of life she would have lived. The beautiful thing about Heaven is sometimes if you are paying close enough attention, you get a glimpse into their world. Emilia will send little signs, just big enough to get a message across. I may have missed out these last 3.5 years on raising my daughter here on earth, but in those mundane messages, I am able to feel exactly who Emilia is. While here on earth, I’ll never know exactly what Emilia would look like or how she would have lived out her life, but I do know the beauty of her soul and I feel a connection to her that every mother feels with any of her children. I am learning that my connection with Emilia looks vastly different compared to the bonds I share with my living children, but my link to Emilia is equally as powerful and equally as strong.
10. SEASONS | Late winter, early spring reminds me the most of Emilia. Emilia was supposed to be a Star Wars baby… her due date was May 4th. “May The Force Be With You!” But because her older sister was born via cesarean section, she was born via cesarean section too. This pushed up her delivery date by a week, changing her birthday to April 27th. Emilia, however, never made it to April 27th, as she was born asleep at 7:51 am on March 15, 2017. Most parents have one day that is symbolic and that is their child’s birthday. Our family has five dates that are special to us. March 13th, 14th, 15th, April 27th, and May 4th. I explained why the last three dates are symbolic to us, but March 13th and 14th are also weirdly special to me. The first date is likely the day that Emilia died and the latter is the day we learned she had died. I wouldn’t describe these two dates as being particularly ‘special’ to us, but these dates will forever have a personal significance, just as the other three have. These five days are more than just dates on a calendar. Each year on these specific days, I stop and I think about her.
I think about Emilia every March 13th… I sit and I dissect every part of that day wondering what I did that caused her to die. I wonder at what moment on that day did her little heart stop beating? What was I doing? Did she feel any pain, did she know something was wrong? Did I do enough-could I have saved her?
Every March 14th I reflect back on the day we learned she died. I remember that the entire day was filled with concern and frustration. I was worried because I wasn’t feeling any movements and I spent the entire day trying to coax her into moving for me. Every year when the clock strikes 5:40 pm, I remember where I was at that exact time on March 14, 2017. My entire world crashed beneath me as I sat helplessly in that hospital bed, being told my daughter was no longer alive. This date was the worst day of my entire life.
March 15, 2017, will forever be the greatest day of my life! It is the day I held my Angel! She was perfect! She was beautiful! And she was mine! Every year on her Birthday we celebrate! We make her day special because that is exactly what she is to us. I make a point to not make March 15th a day I dread. To be honest, I’d live the day on a loop if I could. The hardest part wasn’t being in the hospital and holding my lifeless child. It what learning that our dreams were coming to an end and that at the end of the hospital stay I’d have to say goodbye forever.
On April 27th I always think about what life should have been. On this day each year, we would be celebrating with cake and gifts and laughter and with Emilia here with me. It would have been a pretty exciting day at our house. Now it’s just a date that remains neatly tucked away deep in my heart.
And as for May 4th… it never would have been her Birthday and I do recognize that. The date really has very little significance, but each May 4th I can’t help but be reminded of her. Emilia’s daddy is a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd. He was a little more than excited when we were officially given this day as her due date. If he could have made it her Birthday he would have. I guess I look back on the early moments of pregnancy and remember all the excitement we had knowing we were pregnant. To say we looked forward to May 4th was an understatement! We thought on May 4th we would happily being holding our baby and never suspected things would go as terribly wrong as they did.
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