Updated: May 9, 2021
This may not be for all readers. I do not apologize.
One of the most impactful events of my life, for sure, was the birth of our second child. I had had a pretty traumatic birth and near death experience with our first child, so I can't say I was expecting something smooth and easy with number two. But, this second child's arrival completely shook me and even now, 20 years later, I'm still experiencing a personal evolution as I reflect back on the days that led up to her birth and the days, months and years that have followed.
When Paige came out, a scream came out too. It wasn't hers, but mine. I remember how it sounded in my own ears. It was a deep and raw cry that carried the weight of more than just physical pain. I already knew the outcome. There would be no reward for my labor. The woman who was beside me, there to support me quickly, sharply "scolded" me by name. "SHERRY!!" I suppose I had startled her and that was her reflexive response, but the message I received was that I needed to be more controlled and be sure that my emotions were kept in check and I shouldn't express the grief the way I needed to...
It might make someone uncomfortable.
That message was repeated over and again in the months that followed.
So...I haven't shared this experience with many people. I may have shared the facts, but rarely the details...the feelings. There are some reasons and roadblocks that have restrained me from sharing it. I was told early on that the only reason someone would share a story like this is so they could receive pity. That's never been my deal, so I've been selective in telling it. But it is a part of my story that wants to be told. Some of the reasons why not to share are the very reasons I feel like I must.
She stopped living just a handful of minutes before she should have taken her first breath.
But she was still born. She still came into this world. Paige Elizabeth Hougard. Person.
I think of Paige's life as an event. Her whole life was just a moment in time.
May 20, 1999 - May 20, 1999. That was her moment, pure and unadulterated. There would be no challenges, no "sins" of disobedience, defiance or rebellion ...nor would there be any proud moments, toothless grins or Kindergarten hand prints in plaster for Mother's Day.
She never took a breath. She never laughed or smiled. She never looked me in the eyes or put her little arms around my neck. She never ran.
But she was still born.
Today I was fiddling with the dual meaning of stillborn / still born as it applies to babies who are born dead...but are still born. As I revisited my tightly closed up and mostly unexpressed box of heart memories, I thought it may be helpful to someone who needs to hear some of them. And it's important for me to finally speak about them "out loud".
For a couple of months afterward I would wake in the mornings with my arms aching. It was a weird, spasm like pain that was hard to describe. The thought occurred to me that they ached because they were empty. After considering that possibility, I never felt that pain again.
And for years after her birth I would be standing at the kitchen sink and out of the corner of my eye I could see the figure of a small child on the landing of the stairway. One day I explored the idea that it was just my heart wanting to see her there. After that, I never saw her again.
We are complex beings. Our potential for joy and vibrance can overcome our challenges or can be hijacked by the physical, mental or emotional experiences of our lives. There were many times when I knew I was in a real struggle over the territory of my mind and emotions and that if I didn't choose to fight well, I would succumb to darkness and depression.
It has been a long war on a lonely battlefield.
I don't think that words are random. I think that the term "stillborn" used for babies who are born dead is not some accidental double entendre. The meaning carries sadness, but it does actually validate that human being. My life Still mattered. I did Still make a difference. I have Still left my mark. Even though I'm not here now, I was Still born.
Paige's life changed mine and the way I live mine. Her life is what brought about some of the most powerful revelations and growth in me that has allowed me to make, what I think are my greatest contributions and impact on others. The loss of her life gives me credibility to speak into painful places that others can't reach. It is a gift that I am now, actually grateful for. She also took me out of feeling very much "in control" of my everyday to being completely out of control and taught me I could still get through it, through anything, with God's help.
Her death showed me what the phrase "a peace which surpasses understanding" really means. I understand that now because I have experienced peace and joy in the midst of great suffering that was inexplicable. And, I now feel like a piece of me has gone ahead and has given me a sense of connection to "beyond", to when we will meet again.
A note to young moms and dads who may be experiencing this Still-ness...
People will say unbelievably stupid and insensitive things. They are not bad or cold hearted. Most people just are not equipped to respond well to this kind of loss. Be quick to give grace and understand that they mean well. ... and try to laugh at the clumsi-mess of it.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
---I was at a dance class with my oldest daughter and the other dance moms asked me if she was my only child. I shared about my recent loss. Quietly aside, my close "friend" said "I can't believe you talked about that in public!"
*Your child's death is not something you should be ashamed of just because it makes someone else uncomfortable.
Do what you need to do and say what you need to say to heal.
---"I'm so sorry. But, you can have another one".
*This is not what someone would say to a parent who had lost an 8 year old child.
It's not appropriate at any age.
You will always be one child short of what you should have. Your little human cannot be replaced by another one. This was a unique individual.
---When one of our young couple friends came over to bring and share a meal with us in the days just following her birth, the mom, who had just had her second baby, laughingly said "You have No Idea what it's like to have two kids!!"
(ah...Ya, I think that's why you brought over a casserole, dummy.)
*Find what is funny and laugh as much as possible.
---The birth professional who we had hired to help us through the birth process came for a postpartum visit and as we talked she said "I'm just glad it happened to you instead of someone else who couldn't have handled it..."
Ah...I'm flattered...? Thanks. (I know what she meant and I understood, but geez... maybe I'm NOT handling it! Maybe I've just learned to look strong and make everyone else comfortable.)
*Somethings people say, you'll just have to shake your head at. Assume they mean well.
For you, Sweet young mom... Even though there is no proof that your child existed your personal biology will march on. Your pieces and parts will have to heal. Your milk will still come in. You will still have baby weight even though you don't have a baby. You will go to get your hair done or go to church and someone will say "HEY!! You had your baby!!" and you will have to respond... with strength...with grace...possibly through tears (yours and theirs). You will have to summon up inner strength that is your's alone. You will.
Just try to keep getting up. You can.
Your husband or partner can't share that all with you, and may not be able to understand it or help you.
Just keep standing up. You can.
You will have to make that decision to get up, stand up, push up and reach up everyday...all day long. For a while. And it will make you into someone you never imagined you could or would have to be.
Find the humor. Laugh at the funny stuff. Choose joy. Get Up. Keep Getting Up.
You can do it. You can.