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 excitedly waited for CarlyMarie to unveil the last two years’ challenges, but sadly, I believe she has discontinued her Capture Your Grief Project. Instead of canceling this yearly tradition, I have decided the last two years to revisit past challenges. This year I am completing the Capture Your Grief Project from 2013. 2020 was a difficult year for all of us. I think we were all optimistic that 2021 would look different, but unfortunately it wasn’t much of a change. Regardless of how each of us has individually approached the Covid Pandemic, we are still in the trenches and the world as a whole is continuing to see the effects of how Covid is changing our lives still today. My own personal journey is greatly impacted by Covid while also navigating the emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy after loss. My focus this year is to shine light on pregnancy and infant loss and pregnancy after loss. Please join me on this journey! If your heart feels compelled, complete your own Capture Your Grief and tell your story too.
1. SUNRISE | Even Mother Nature knows the Halloween season is upon us! I woke up this morning at 6:30, waited for the sun to rise, and atlas I am still waiting! The spooky skies are the perfect ushering in of one of my favorite months and Holidays. Happy October 1st, everyone! I am so excited to kick off this year’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month! Each year I feel like I gain so much from setting a small part of my time aside each day to think about Emilia and how her death has transformed my life. My hopes are that multiple loss parents will join me on this challenge to share their own stories. I am pregnant with my 5th child. I have three daughters, two beside me and one in Heaven, and this baby follows a miscarriage that I had this previous February. Pregnancy After Loss adds so much more depth to our grief and emotions, so I am sure that after completing this challenge I will learn more about myself and this pregnancy than what I originally expected. Cheers to October and all the remembrance, honoring, and growing we will experience together as the month goes on!
2. IDENTITY | My daughter’s name is Emilia Madeleine Rose Clough. There wasn’t much of a meaning behind choosing her name. My husband and I just really liked the name Emilia and were particularly fond of the spelling verse the more common version, Amelia. Her nickname would have been Emme. My siblings and I all have two middle names. A tradition that would lead to all my nieces and nephews and my own children to be given two middle names as well. My husband and I have always been a fan of old, traditional names and Emilia Madeleine Rose has just a beautiful flow to it! Emilia was born via csection on March 15, 2017. She had a full head of red hair! She was small and petite, weighing in at just 4lbs, 3 oz and measuring 18.5 inches long. We discovered that Emilia had died after going a long extended period of time without feeling any fetal movement at 33-weeks gestation. March 15th was one of the greatest days of my life! It was the day I held my very own angel in my arms! I wish I could go back and hold Emilia just one more time!
3. MYTHS | There are many myths about grief, but “Time Heals All Wounds” is in my opinion the most commonly overused. There are some things in life that you truly never get over… you never fully heal. I will admit that over time the grief does soften, it’s not as raw, but it never completely goes away. Grief also requires effort. You cannot just place it on a shelf and hope that over time it will just go away. You have to work through it and allow yourself to experience all of the unpleasant moments that come with it. I think most people are naive when it comes to understanding grief. Until you have deeply experienced it yourself, you have no clue how grief works on a timeline. I know it is incredibly hard to watch a loved one go through something really tough. You want so badly to take your loved one’s pain away. I look at all the times my kids have been hurt or sick and I instinctively want to fix things to spare them from any pain. I think we cling to cliches like “Time Heals All Wounds” when we are searching for the perfect words to erase or ease the grief from a loved one who is hurting. Grief doesn’t work that way. There are no shortcuts, no magical words, or a special length of time that fixes everything. The truth is – grieving individuals eventually grow use to the pain. You forget who you were without it and it becomes a natural part of your existence. Healing doesn’t mean you completely detach yourself from the grief. Healing is a continual process where you learn how to function with grief blended into your new life. What I have learned from my own personal experience is that you learn to live a life where grief and joy coexist.
“Even though the pain does not go away, your soul will eventually make enough room so you can hold it all – the grief, the pain, the joy, and the love.” Susi Costello
4. LEGACY | Our children change us, regardless if they live a long or short life. One of my favorite Pregnancy and Infant Loss quotes is – “There is no footprint so small that it does not leave an imprint on this world.” It is the signature quote for Emilia’s Wings, as we believe that every life, no matter how small, leaves a beautiful mark on our world. When Emilia died I had this agonizing fear that she would be forgotten. That the memory of her existence would die with her. It means the world to me when people mention her name or recognize that I have three daughters and not just two. Just because Emilia isn’t by my side, doesn’t make her less of a daughter than my other two children. So much of what I do in life, I do for Emilia. Emilia’s Wings was created so that her death wouldn’t just be in vain. We wanted to honor her and keep her memory alive by being supportive and helping others who are facing similar journeys. They say that your legacy is every life that you have touched. I would say Emilia has left behind a pretty large legacy! We will continue to be her voice, to speak her name, and to advocate for babies and their families like ours. I can think of no better way to honor Emilia and to further her legacy, so the world will never forget that she lived too.
5. MEMORY | A memory I would like to share is the moment Emilia was born… 7:51 am on March 15, 2017, in North Kansas City, Missouri. My husband and I were told that Emilia had died the evening prior to her birth. Because I was having a csection, I had to wait an x-amount of hours after eating until I could have surgery. Therefore, my csection was scheduled for the following morning. There are no words to describe my feelings and emotions leading up to her birth. I carried Emilia for more than 13 hours that night knowing that she had died. Sleep does not happen after you’ve just been told that your unborn daughter is dead. I spent the next 13+ sleepless hours in complete shock and denial. A part of me kept telling myself that maybe the doctor was wrong and that some miracle would happen. They’d go in for surgery, complete my csection, and miraculously find a healthy ALIVE baby girl after all!
Nothing prepares you for the stillness and somber moments following your stillborn child’s delivery. There are no joyful sounds of celebration, no first newborn cries, just silence. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Emilia’s beautiful face! Dr. Schowengerdt lifted her body over the surgical drape, the nurses handed her over to my husband, and I sobbed as I watched the love of my life hold our lifeless daughter in his arms. This was the most solemn, sacred moment of my life! Meeting my beautiful daughter for the very first time, knowing that all too soon I’d have to say goodbye forever.
6. RITUAL | Each year on Emilia’s Birthday and on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day I burn a letter that I wrote to her. We use to have a custom where each of us would write a message addressed to Emilia and attach them to balloons. We would release our balloons and watch them float up into the sky towards Heaven. As time goes on, I have grown more aware of environmental hazards and have tried to do my part to help keep our earth green. I did not like the idea of balloons falling back to the ground and littering the earth or the possibility of birds and others animals mistaking the balloons for food, eating them, and consequently dying. I think of everything we have tried to accomplish since Emilia’s passing. Causing harm or death to other living things is not my idea of a meaningful way to honor her memory. Luckily, last year I was made aware of an alternative that is both meaningful and environmentally friendly. First, I write a heartfelt message to Emilia. I go outside and I safely burn the letter until it is nothing but ash and soot. Once the ashes have cooled, I place them into the palms of my hands and I blow them up towards Heaven to be received and read by Emilia. I call this tradition my Love Letter to Heaven.
7. YOU NOW | Where am I know in my grief? For the most part, I am doing well. I accepted Emilia’s death in years past and I believe I have developed healthy coping strategies to handle my grief. I really feel like there isn’t any other option than to try to keep moving forward. Life goes on and the world doesn’t stop for you and your grief. So you trudge on and learn how to accept your new life. I wrote a couple days ago about the myth of time and grief and I tried my best to describe how both actually work. Your pain and grief never go away. Your heart eventually just makes enough room to hold all the grief, pain, joy, and love together. That’s how I am doing today. I’ve learned how to balance all of the feelings. Despite coming to terms, I do feel lonely. I want to talk about Emilia. I want somebody to ask me about her. I think the hardest part about grief is that it is messy, which makes it awkward and difficult for others to see. So many of us want to talk about our grief, but feel like we have no place talking about it out loud, so we grieve behind closed doors instead.
In recent months I have wrestled with a new struggle and my heart has been extra heavy with fear and panic. I am so excited about this new pregnancy, but I am also so terrified! After you lose a child, your heart is no longer naive. You know all the different outcomes, both good and bad, and your mind easily fixates on all of the terrible ways that your pregnancy could end. I don’t know how I survived my pregnancy with Roselyn! I remember it being really tough at times, but I don’t remember it being this terrifying. I have accepted that I am experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am paranoid that I will unknowingly eat food that will hurt the baby or be exposed to toxic fumes that will cause a miscarriage. I’m panicky if I get bit by a mosquito and I overthink moderate exercise and whether it will stress the baby. I can’t take warm baths without having my husband check the water temperature first and I won’t let people get near me because of COVID, because I just know I will get it and probably kill myself or my baby. This is just a short list of all the things driving me mad. I’m also paranoid that my baby will have something genetically wrong with it. I don’t know how to raise a handicap child and I pray, Pray, PRAY to God that this baby is healthy. I am a mess! And I am tired!! I am so tired of living in fear! I don’t know how to turn it off. I so badly miss the naive me! I wish I could go back to feeling just joy during pregnancy. I wish I could walk into a doctor’s appointment with no fear and not have the nagging worries of whether they’ll find a heartbeat or not at the forefront of my mind. Pregnancy After Loss is terrifying! I have spent the last three months holding my breath and I know I’ll be spending the next five months doing the same.
8. COLOUR | We’ve all had a run in with something that coincidentally keeps showing up or happening over and over again without us even trying to have it end with that result. That is my story with the colors purple and aquamarine. Before Emilia was born, I purchased a bunch of different items that coincidentally were all purple and aquamarine without even thinking about it. My husband and I had painted our eldest daughter Adelaide’s bedroom both of these colors. The grand plan was to have both her and Emilia share this bedroom as they got older. I had made Emilia a door sign for her nursery that had both of these colors incorporated into the sign. Adelaide got to pick out a little sister gift for Emilia that included an outfit. Adelaide chose a Little Mermaid outfit that was purple and aquamarine. Emilia’s take home dress that I chose was aquamarine. Even after her death, we would randomly be given gifts or go to PAIL events where the color scheme was purple and aquamarine. The color aquamarine was made even that much more special to us, when we realized Emilia’s birthstone for March is Aquamarine. Purple and Aquamarine have become such a huge symbol of Emilia and I know that she has used both colors to send signs to us. My favorite colors in the whole world are purple and aquamarine! I cannot see the two colors together without thinking of her!
9. MUSIC | Emilia would be 4.5 years old today and this song still feels just as meaningful as it did the first time I listened to it back in March of 2017. There is so much truth within the lyrics. I’m always wondering what life would have been like if Emilia had lived. Who would she be? What would she look like? Would she be a painter or an author? Would she have favored her father or taken more after me? I would have done and given anything to take her place, so that she could have lived. Emilia died six weeks before her schedule csection. Her birthday should have been April 27th. I know that isn’t her birthday, but that date is still special to me. Every April 27th, I pause and I think about her and what the day should be. I remember our second April 27th after Emilia died. This particular date would have been her 1st Birthday. That morning during breakfast, I had Alexa play music from my Spotify account. I shuffled the songs and the first song that played was “Gone Too Soon” by Daughtry. If that wasn’t a sign that Emilia was with us, then I don’t know what is. The lyrics in the first verse begin with:
“Today could have been the day, That you’d blow out your candles, Make a wish as you closed your eyes. Today could have been the day, Everybody was laughing, Instead I just sit here and cry.”
That day literally would have been Emilia’s Birthday! She would be blowing out candles and making wishes on that day. We’d all be laughing as a family, celebrating her very First Birthday, but instead I was sitting their imagining what the day would have looked like if life had played out the way it should have. If you have never listened to “Gone Too Soon” by Daughtry, take a few minutes out of your day to watch this music video.
10. BELIEFS | I don’t think there is a single person alive on earth that knows exactly what life after death looks like. I have a really hard time when people speak about God, Heaven, and the Bible so factually or use them as crutches to try to push their own agendas. I think we all need to be reminded that the Bible was written by several men and that no man or woman is flawless. Some portions of the Bible have been translated into as many as 3,000 languages. There are so many words and meanings that get lost in translation. Not to mention how much our vocabulary has changed since each of the books in the Bible were written. I think there are many things in the Bible we don’t fully understand and we might all have a completely different way of interpreting what the author of each book is truly trying to convey. How many times have you received a text from a friend and totally misinterpreted the tone and context of the intended message? 😂 Unfortunately, the difference is, we don’t have the original authors here today to set us straight and tell what they really meant.
Fort this reason, I don’t know what lies after death. I don’t think anyone does. But I do believe there is life after death. I think our souls go somewhere. I like to consider that “somewhere” to be a place that looks very much like what our interpretation of Heaven is. I believe in God and in Jesus. I believe my Emilia is with both of them. It’s incredibly hard to lose a child and experience signs being sent from somewhere and not believe that there is a Heaven or at least something after death. I may be wrong, along with most others on earth, but today I will draw comfort from the belief that Emilia is in a great place, watching over me, and speaks to me when she knows I need her most!
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