Sometimes blog posts come from a place of serendipity. This post on the meaning of meaning after pregnancy loss is one of those.
Recently my intern, Debbie Fischer, and I were meeting with a beautiful mother whose baby had died a couple of years ago. We were discussing her thoughts about how best to memorialize her son. Debbie, who has had her own difficult pregnancy losses, decided to share her own thoughts on how best to think about her babies. “Cherry blossoms,” she said. “A big tattoo of cherry blossoms. Substantial”, she said. Our conversation shifted to why cherry blossoms, of all things. She talked movingly about how cherry blossoms are so beautiful but they are here so briefly. I love haikus, so I chimed in:
Like cherry blossoms.
Here for just a brief moment.
My baby was real.
Or this one from Kobayashi Issa (in When Your Baby Dies Through Miscarriage Or Stillbirth by Louis A. Gamino and Ann T. Cooney, 2002)
And all our world is dew
So dear, so fresh, so fleeting
Meaning is so individual. We cannot hold the wind in our hands but we know that we are moved by it. The same is true of meaning. Each person knows what they know about anything and each explanation is fascinating. As Debbie said to us, “the bigger story is meaning making. How many of us create a narrative as a way to bring peace, or clarity, or give meaning?” A lot.
There are many, many ways to remember a loved and longed-for baby who has died. When someone else attempts to question your meaning or to impose their own, you may find that it does not fit for YOU. Who is anyone of us to question how someone else remembers a loved one, especially a baby? A memorial can be anything that has meaning to YOU. Here are some ideas for you to ponder.
How many bereaved parents do you know who have tattoos? I’m a woman of a certain age (ahem) and tattoos were just not de rigeur when I was younger. But as I think back in time, the people who did have tattoos were remembering a person, a place, or an experience. A tattoo makes something permanent. One man talked about his desire to have a tattoo that would allow him to feel the pain that his wife went through. What is the image that will memorialize your baby? For Debbie’s husband, it was their son, Nikolas’, foot on his arm. The tattoo could be a name, an angel, or something symbolic—like cherry blossoms. Your feelings may grow and change over time and the symbol may change as well. Some tattoos are hidden and private and some are right out there. You will know when you have found a design and a spot that speaks to you.
Somehow the wedding ring is a universal symbol. For many, the meaning is “taken!” What is your meaning of a wedding ring? Mine is a promise of everlasting love and commitment. Similarly, many of the woman we see wear jewelry as a promise that they will remember their baby or babies with forever love. Sometimes the jewelry is literal (a child’s name) or symbolic (e.g., a never-ending circle, birth stones). Sometimes there is more than one piece of jewelry, so there can be variety while always remembering—necklaces, rings, bracelets, and more than one of each. It can be soothing and a meditation to wear beauty to remember a beautiful baby.
Gardens, Trees, and Plants
The first time I sat with the parents of a stillborn baby, we talked about how they could remember their daughter, Lily. “A lily garden,” they said. They planted a riot of lilies in their yard with the knowledge that the flowers would grow year after year and keep spreading. It was a comfort to them to know that their love and her memory would keep growing..
Debbie talked with us about her dislike of cut flowers that live and die after only a short period of time. While she understood that people were sending love, what meant more to her was a family who came to plant plants in her yard that would grow again and again. Plants, whether in the house or outside, and trees are a visible and real growing signs of life and love.
The lighting of candles in a loved one’s memory travels across cultures and religions. I have lit many a candle in Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches around the world for a moment of remembrance. In Judaism, a 24 hour candle called a yarzheit candle burns on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. There is something about fire that draws us in and allows to slow down for a moment to look in wonder.
Memorial Bricks, Benches, and other Lasting Memorials
Some people want something sturdy and public that will last for a long time. Bricks, benches, and walls can be inscribed with a child’s name and a special thought. These solid memorials can be visited by parents and others. There is the extra benefit of educating others about the pain of stillbirth and how much babies are loved…forever.
Foundations, Blogs, and Books
It is often that people choose to turn their trauma and sorrow into something that can benefit others. For example, the Star Legacy Foundation and the MISS Foundation provide research and education on preventing stillbirth and healing from the same. There are many, many blogs written by women who have been through the trauma of stillbirth and miscarriage, so many so that they seem largely to have replaced in-person support groups. I’d love to see more blogs written by men who have been through a pregnancy loss. Books have been a comfort to many. Memoirs offer the writer the opportunity to tell their story and to reach others. There are wonderful books for children as well as grandparents who have been a part of the sorrow of pregnancy loss.
Photos, Drawings, and Art
Creativity is healing. The volunteer photographers of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep have been remarkable in capturing the birth and death of loved babies and their parents. These photographs are a tremendous help to grieving parents to remember that their baby was and is real. A beautiful woman Debbie and I know filled a tree with origami swans to remember her son. It is gorgeous and so moving. Many women have told me that a memorial drawing of their deceased baby has been a softer way of bringing a framed picture of their child to the workplace. Artist Emma Saperstein started The Bundle Project in 2011 after her sister’s baby was born still. She made bundles for grieving families from items of clothing that had been purchased or made for the baby to come. The bundles were made in the weight of the child.
Balloon and Chinese Lamp Releases
This idea is one that is filled with rich meaning, plus it is beautiful. At the Stillbirth Summit in 2014, Lindsey Wimmer and Shauna Libsack, the founders of the Star Legacy Foundation, arranged a balloon release after two days of presentations on international research about stillbirth. It was a sacred moment for all who were present.
A number of my clients have a birthday party for their stillborn child. Why not? I’m pretty birthday crazy myself. The day of someone’s birth is a special moment in time, right? It is a time to remember a child with sweetness.
MAKE YOUR OWN MEANING. DO IT YOUR WAY
Is a meaningful memory a replacement for the child you ache to hold in your arms? Absolutely not. But it can, even for only a moment, bring peace to heart and soul. What special meanings have brought you moments of peace? I’d love to hear from you.