One thing I have noticed since losing my son, Zachary, is how I appreciate milestones more deeply. I love celebrating the birthdays of my two rainbow babies and my daughter, who was one-year-old when Zach passed away. So too am I grateful to wish my “book baby” a very happy birthday. One year ago today, I published my memoir, called Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss (She Writes Press, April 18, 2017).
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When I look back on this past year, I realize there are many important lessons that I have learned. These revelations grew out of my challenging season of grief, the newness of slow-earned healing, and the process of writing, editing, and publishing my story.
The lessons are:
1. Though it takes forty weeks to grow a full-term baby, the delivery is not the final act of nurture.
Growing, loving, and teaching a child is a lifelong responsibility (and gift). Similarly, grief continues, but it too changes and has different needs. When I look back at my journey—which is easy to do when it’s recorded between the cover of a book—I see that I have transformed through my grief, but that it will always be a part of me, like a scar. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all in the vantage point in which you look at it. It is a scar I am honored to wear, like my maternal stretch marks.
2. People always ask me: Was it healing to write Expecting Sunshine? My answer is: It was healing once it was finished.
At the time of writing the first draft, it was terrifying to be so vulnerable with my anxieties for my pregnancy after loss. I had to be extremely vulnerable in writing about my husband and how our marriage struggled after saying goodbye to Zachary. When Zach passed away, I felt shame. By sharing my story through publishing my book, I had to let go of my experiences as being simply my own, opening my life to the universal challenges we all face, in the hopes of encouraging others. This openness changed me. It taught me the power of storytelling to save our lives and the lives of others.
3. In traveling around the world on the book tour for Expecting Sunshine, I met thousands of women, men, and families who had lived through miscarriage, stillbirth, other types of pregnancy and early infant loss, and even the losses of older children.
Some of them had been successful in having one or more rainbow babies, others had not. I met people from as far as New Zealand to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to people in my own neighborhood of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I met individuals of differing cultures and religions. What moves me to tears is the immense love all these people have for their children. This experience unifies us. We have a common bond of loss, love, healing, and hope. Sharing about our losses brings us together. While I am saddened to have met these people under these circumstances, I am forever humbled to have learned about the babies they carry in their hearts. Now I carry them in my heart as well.
4. Publishing a book is hard work.
While I love telling my story, Zachary’s story, and to do it so frequently, it does bring my emotions to the forefront. I cannot help when the tears choose to come. In sharing my story so publicly for so long, I do keenly anticipate the day when I can reclaim my experiences in a private way. What I mean by this is: Right now, I am deeply invested in helping other bereaved parents. It is my volunteer passion and the advocacy I do happily, because I see it as Zachary’s legacy.
At the same time, I recognize that there will come a day when this form of expression and support will evolve. This expression of my grief and healing will step into a new stage. I don’t fully know what that looks, but I feel it coming. I feel that my message of hope will broaden to include people healing from sexual abuse, bullying, mental health struggles, and beyond. I love encouraging others, and I see so much need in the world.
5. Finally, my love for Zachary remains.
As always, through the sunshine and the storms, my love for him is my constant, a reliable foundation, a treasure I hold dear.
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