When my husband and I announced the loss of our first pregnancy at 20 weeks, we received an outpouring of support from friends and family. At that time and in the nearly three years since, which for us included another 20 week loss followed by a genetic diagnosis, IVF, and the birth of our first living child, many have shared their similar experiences with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. A former colleague relayed words that had been shared with her before, explaining that I was not alone in my pain.
She explained that pregnancy and birth are messy and complicated, and that I was now part of a huge sisterhood of women who have endured a similar pain.
I can’t recall now exactly how I felt reading these words in the first weeks after my first baby’s death. Little did I know how important that sisterhood would be for me over the coming years. I see so clearly now how essential these other women have been in helping me traverse this journey I have been on.
This sentiment echoes a quote from Mirabai Starr that I have thought of often over the past few years,
“Even as I rocked on my knees, howling, I detected soft breathing behind the roaring. I leaned in, listened. It was the murmuring of ten million mothers, backward and forward in time and right now, who had also lost children. They were lifting me, holding me. They had woven a net of their broken hearts, and they were keeping me safe there. I realized that one day I would take my rightful place as a link in this web, and I would hold my sister-mothers when their children died. For now my only task was to grieve and be cradled in their love.”
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support a loss mom.
It takes a village to give her strength after loss, to help her to continue living.
It takes a village to help her figure out how to grieve and what to do with her love for her child, her empty belly, and her aching arms.
It takes a village to help her to find the will to try to conceive again.
It takes a village to help her mourn and accept that she is done having children.
It takes a village to learn to parent her living children with one piece of her and their family missing.
It takes a village to help her hold the pain, fear, and the joy of a pregnancy after loss. To help ease her anxieties when they are overwhelming. To help validate her fears when others don’t understand just how logical they are. To help her manage her ongoing grief as she parents a baby born after loss. To be a place of belonging when she feels alone in emotions that are difficult to share.
It takes a village to hold and support her, to love and comfort her.
I have met so many amazing women over the past three years. I have formed deeper connections with friends, family members, and colleagues who have been here before, with, and after me. I have interacted with strangers in online groups who have provided incredible support to get me through difficult times.
I have felt the web of this woven net that Maribai Starr writes about in the nurse who took such delicate care of our second baby boy and took pictures and footprints that we are so grateful for.
I felt this web in the nurse practitioner who told me that I had the strength when I said I was not yet ready to deliver him, when I cried that did not want to push.
She knew I was not ready for this pregnancy to end and how afraid I was to see my baby. She knew because she had been there before.
I have joined this sisterhood, this club that no parent wants to join. I have taken my place as a link in this web.
As a mental health professional, I know the power of connection. But there is nothing like feeling the power of being seen by women who have walked nearly the same painful, heartbreaking journey as you. The losses that we have endured give us insights into each other’s grief. We feel the heartache with each other.
Just like Brene Brown describes empathy, we are not afraid to climb down into the hole and sit with one another, feeling our sister’s pain with her.
To this village of amazing women who have been here before me and created a culture of support and love, thank you. I don’t know where I would be without you.
To the women who are new to this sisterhood, I wish you didn’t have to be here. But you are, and you will experience an incredible amount of support if you are willing to lean into it. Find the women who have been there. Find the women who get it. Find the support in the places you can: in person, online, through social media and text messages. Know that there are so many others who are here to help you walk this path so you don’t have to feel so alone. Know that you will survive the unimaginable, just like so many others have before.