Valentine's Day 2014 was the worst day of my life. After a very healthy 38 weeks of pregnancy, full-term, my husband and I found out that our daughter, Haven Melody, had died (due to a rare umbilical cord defect, we later learned). I remember the shock hitting me like a ton of bricks; she was kicking me in the ribs just the night before, and mine had been a "picture perfect pregnancy" (my OB's words). 38 weeks of pure joy were followed by 38 hours of induction and labour...and anguish. Our baby was born perfect but silent, and we said hello and goodbye at the same time. 6lb, 5oz of love - my heart on the outside. We left the hospital just 12 hours after she was born, empty-handed except for a small wooden box of mementos that the nurses put together for us. Our too-quiet house felt so empty. Nothing, and everything, changed.
This road has been so very hard to walk. For me, it has included major depression, severe anxiety, and months of insomnia (though that part of the battle has seen improvement since I first wrote this post). The world has been gray and the idea of hope entirely foreign. When you go through a trauma like this, people tell you (among many other things) that you are brave and strong, but the truth is that most of the time you are just surviving, though you're not sure you want to. This isn't my first trip to the bottom of the pit, but it is the deepest pit I've ever visited. How do you move forward after the death of your child? I wish there was a handbook that could explain it to me and tell me what to do next. I keep living each day, holding on to schedules and tasks to keep me afloat. I have changed, that is certain; I will never be exactly the same person again. You can glue the shattered plate together, but it will always have fine cracks.
I have learned in the past few months that there are parts of my life that require a stiff upper lip, but my personal life shouldn't be one of them. I could keep silent about my grieving process like many parents feel the need to, and it is tempting because our beautiful daughter is the elephant in every room. However, I made a choice in those 38 hours to not hide my grief, because to not acknowledge Haven's impact and importance in our lives would be far worse than the pain of talking about her. She is, and will always be, my first and very loved child. I didn't stop being a mom when she died; I think about her every hour, every day. She was here and she was real, even if only six people outside of medical staff got a chance to meet her. She is gone now, but I feel invisible too. I'm the mother no one wants to be; all of the love, but nobody in my arms.
A few months ago, I came across the TV show "Call the Midwife." The lead character, a nurse, lost a loved one to tragic circumstances in one particular episode. A patient who was a Holocaust survivor tells her, "You will feel better than this. Maybe not yet, but you will. You just keep living until you are alive again." A part of me has died and it will never come back, but I believe that something new can grow in its place.
I have heard of different variations of the 365 project and have slowly come to the decision to do it myself. I'll admit that I am afraid to commit, afraid of where this will take me. Every step toward joy is a step away from my grief, which is one of the only things I have left of my daughter. But I believe that she would want me to live again, and somewhere inside of me I believe that I can.
Map to Joy will follow my journey through the next 365 days. One of the goals of this blog is to help me find one thing in each day that I am grateful for. I can't think of a better antidote for bitterness and despair than gratitude. And gratitude leads to joy. I believe that this intentional focus will be a tool in helping me find my way again. I haven't reached hope yet, but I think that this process might take me there. You are welcome to share in my journey.
Here are my 365 days. My map to joy.