Her Three Words

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For nearly 3 years, we at stillbirthday have supported families all over the world through our free online resources and our professionally trained and certified birth & bereavement doulas.

On Sunday, May 4, 2014 – International Bereaved Mothers day – stillbirthday officially opened doors to a brick-and-mortar building, exclusively for families who have endured pregnancy and infant loss.

The M0M Center is a place for mothers who have struggled with fertility, endured pregnancy, infant, child or even spouse loss.  If you have endured mourning along the motherhood journey, The M0M Center has something for you.

Because an authentic journey in bereavement can include a crisis of faith, church basements that offer monthly support group space for bereaved families aren’t always appropriate – or even utilized.  The M0M Center is a safe place for support, encouragement and mentoring, as well as an expanding lending library, lovely boutique of keepsake items crafted by bereaved mothers from all over the world, and opportunities for events and activities, like resting in the prayer room or crafting in the create space.

The M0M Center accepts wedding gowns to be recreated into infant burial gowns, or flannel for the tiniest shirts and diapers.

We have keepsake boxes to distribute to local hospitals.  We are a central networking location for local doulas, midwives, photographers, chaplains, and other important resources families might utilize.

But, even more recently, I held the hand of a mother as her womb was grasping to hold her departing baby.

I never share publicly about the families I support because I have never found it appropriate or necessary to do so, and in fact it is a practice strongly discouraged by our trained doulas.

But, in this particular situation, the mother not only gave me express permission, she asked for me to write on her behalf, to convey a message shared on both her heart and mine.

Gently moving her sweeping hair off of her shoulders as she and I sat together, I asked her quietly, “Would you like a drink of water?”

“No,” she said, almost a whisper.  The first word she managed to crack in some time.

Her body shifted, she began to rise from the seat.  Her eyes met mine.  Her face looked even more pale than before, as if all her body’s blood had been moving in one direction.  Worry – nay, a worry much deeper than worry, pressed through her glance.  It met my very core, and I knew instantly what it was: fear.
“I think it is time.”

Slowly rising, looking back at where she was just seated as if to look for any trace of what she had been feeling taking place just under her faded blue jeans, she turned then in the direction of the bathroom.

A few minutes pass, I look at the clock, and I hear the few moans that deepen into a bellow just before first trimester birth.

Even on the other side of the door, the sense of transition, of exchange, of separation of life, is palpable.

And the three words.

The three words, not spoken, not asked, but, shrieked.

Shrieked, in a frenzy, of motherly feelings, of maternal hormones, of the most empty lackness and yet of the most dire importance, somehow, plunging together.

It draws me in a flash to a moment I’ve had in a very large department store.  My very precocious, energetic and shall I confess undisciplined toddler scampered off down an aisle.  With me are also my youngest child, still a baby, strapped in the cart, and my older toddler, curious of the merchandise and deep in contemplation if he will present to me the chocolate or the fruit flavored cereal.  I interrupt his thoughts briskly as I grab his hand to lead him with me in the direction of my wandering son.

Turning the aisle, precious moments go by that are lost in the shuffle of the obstacle course of people in front of me.

I can’t see my son.

Body systems change immediately – I can feel my heart quicken, my chest tighten, my jaw clench and eyesight sharpen.

I stoop down to try to identify the chubby little legs among the moving trees of strangers before me.

I call out, voice checked, calmly.  Not loud enough.  Calling his name a second time, I hear my voice rise and sharpen and know the fear is creeping in.

Pushing the cart through the crowd with more force now, knuckles pasty around the handle.

Pushing faster still.  Calling more loudly now.

When I reach the end of the aisle, with no reward for the incident, fear sharpens into terror.

Rushing now.  Trying to outsmart both the boy and the process of discovering his travels.

Whirring past the aisle ends.

Realizing I’m now also giving a mental check to the passersby.  As if in my frenzy I might be able to identify a culprit if my darling son were snatched by a predator.

Pushing those thoughts out of my mind, pushing into people and screeching his name, my entire body is taken over by the ramifications of unadulterated terror.

Yes, I know what it’s like to lose a child.  It is only in this context that “loss” is applicable in pregnancy and infant loss.

Because even in the nightmare of the missing toddler, I held that cart and moved it forward, because of hope.

Hope that I could scoff at this all-consuming anguish and that, surely, my toddler is happy and safe and just beyond the breakfast cereal.

It is this experience, that washed over me in an instant, with the cry of this mother’s soul in her three, short, words.

“IS THIS HIM?”

I enter the bathroom without knocking.

I survey the birth scene quickly in my mind as I scoop down with her.  Observing such things as our doulas know to, noting to myself that I will need to keep a watchful eye on these things as entering into the emotional component of such an experience can easily become all consuming.  When a doula serves in such capacity as a lay, first trimester midwife, safety must never be forgotten, not ever.

The grocery store encounter in my mind flooding my body all over again with the same tools necessary for such a catastrophe, I breathe deeply and with a brief, almost subconscious sweep I stroke my own arm with the tips of my fingernails – effleurage – as I lower myself and sit Burmese on the cold floor, and come alongside to enter into a mother’s deepest chasm.

“IS THIS HIM?”  She repeats, her voice a shrill, high pitched octave entirely foreign to this previously composed, almost regal woman.

Interesting, that “this” is a pronoun for an object.  Her mother’s heart has cracked open and the vulnerability of such a question floods out of her.  She doesn’t know if she has her baby.  She can’t recognize him.  She can’t identify him.  What she holds might be a broken bit of young placenta – an object, an object she might otherwise discard.  Or, “this” could be a person.  Her son.

The vulnerability of motherhood is deepest in a moment such as this.

I move her hair past her shoulders again, making sure that the gesture brings with it a long stroke of my findertips down her shoulder and back.
“Let’s find out together” I whisper calmly.

This mother stops her story here, as she and I implore you, to consider that the differences between miscarriage and stillbirth are as if to say, “I am a white American” or “I am a black American.”  Diversity is worth celebrating and essential to our heritage and our joy of our existence.  Diversity is a way to honor another’s differences while confidently maintaining our own.  But when diversity is used in such a way to neglect the other’s value and only to magnify our own, it is our own downfall.

Supporing birth diversity (SBD) is a core value of stillbirthday.

Mothers give birth in the first trimester.  More often than our culture recognizes or honors.

Just as one mothers first trimester birth can hearken in the same feelings another mother has toward her living, rambunctious young child, diversity can weave seemingly unrelated experiences into a comforter soft enough we all can grab hold of, for warmth, community and love in our own darkest hour.

May this mothers three words speak into your own mother heart.

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