Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies
Tears are streaming down my face, as I hold my 8-week baby in my arms, while reading Christy’s book, “Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies.” A mix of emotions wash over me—deep sadness and anger for what Christy has experienced, confusion for why, thankfulness for my healthy baby, guilt for feeling thankful for my healthy baby. This book is a must read for any person who has experienced pregnancy or infant loss or knows someone who has. It will help you normalise your feelings and understand those who are experiencing grief.
Co-founder Parental Legacy
Following are some of my favourite excerpts:
I wrote this book because after my infant twins died, I couldn’t find anything on the shelves at the bookstore that was actually honest. I found books about grief, sure. Books written by psychologists on the stages of grief and books that assured me that I would nd my answers in prayer. This isn’t meant to replace those. Those books are necessary, but in the raw, emotional weeks and months after losing my twins, what I wanted to know more than anything was that I was not crazy.
What I hope more than anything is that you find some solace in knowing that you are not alone. That the hard work you are up against will be worth it. That someday the edges of the pain will eventually dull and, with any luck, the painful memories will turn into loving thoughts about the precious babies we lost.
I’m not going to lie—it might be a while. In the meantime, hang in there. Find your people, and lean on them. You’ve got this.
There is a feeling that I cannot quite describe when you are looking death in the eyes. It’s like you know it’s coming, and you know you can’t stop it, but accepting it feels like giving up. I wanted so badly to believe that we were all going to be okay, but I knew that was a lie. On the other hand, I knew I couldn’t spend my days waiting, sure that death would arrive.
Did I have hope? Sure. I read success stories, people were praying for us, and we had great doctors. I had hope. But hope just couldn’t outweigh the nagging feeling of dread, not to mention the facts and statistics. They were not on our side.
I had read countless stories over the last few weeks about babies who had survived after being born at twenty-three weeks, but mine wouldn’t be one of them. We wouldn’t get to be a survivor story.
What I remember the most is that Dr. Brown, who had just stopped by to see me, stood in that room the entire time. When the time came for me to sit down and rock my dying baby, that woman stood right behind me with her hand on my shoulder. And as I sobbed and rocked and screamed, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, baby. Mommy is so sorry that she couldn’t keep you safe,” she kept her hand there, and she firmly repeated, “Christy, this is not your fault. This is NOT your fault.” I will, forever and always, be in awe of her and be grateful for her. Throughout this entire experience, I had all different kinds of doctors, but the kindness and strength that she showed me during those moments was never rivaled.
The Pain And Anguish
Shattered, my heart fragmented into a thousand tiny pieces at that moment, and the scream of broken glass slamming the cold, hard door echoed through my soul, and I knew, in that instant, that even if I could put the pieces back together again, there would always be dusty little fragments, and they would always be missing. We would never be whole. Ever.
My husband ran a hot bath and helped me in. As the steam rose up from the tub, I pulled my knees up to my chest and rocked back and forth, my screams echoing in the small room. “Give me my BABIES BACK!” I wailed over and over. “Why did this happen to ME?” I couldn’t stop. Sobs wracked my body, and I couldn’t slow down the words that owed painfully from my soul. I slammed my fists against the walls of the bathtub and kicked the water, splashing it everywhere. I screamed until my voice was hoarse. The primal, down-to-your-core agony that had overtaken me was almost unbearable. Until that very moment, I had no idea how physically painful grief could feel.
My anxiety was all-consuming and sleep was so difficult to achieve in those early days. On the other hand, feeling the pain made what happened feel real, and I could hang onto that.
Working Through Grief
Many people judged us for leaving right away, including people in my immediate family. I guess I can understand. It must have looked strange that we were going on “vacation” in the face of a tragedy, but I challenge people to look past that and see that we were trying to cope in any way we could. It’s not like there is a handbook for this, or a set of rules somewhere about what to do when your baby dies. I had no idea what to do, but what I did know was that I needed to be away. It was just the first in a long list of times when our family and friends passed judgment on what we were doing and how we were doing it.
I have learned that while you absolutely need to take other people’s feelings into consideration in life, there are times when you have to really and truly only take care of yourself. Do what is going to be good and healing for you, and do it without worrying about what others will think.
We are so afraid of grief and sadness that people can’t even stand to say it aloud. It makes people so uncomfortable that sometimes they can’t even muster up the awful cliché about God’s plan, or that they are in a better place, or that overused anecdote that they “had a friend who had a miscarriage once.” Grieving the loss of a baby is so taboo that it is actually easier to physically turn and run than it is to face the situation.
Laughter has always saved me, and I’m letting it save me now.
I guess there wasn’t a lot you could say to me that would make me happy. Really, there was a way to turn anything that anyone said into something that just really, entirely, pissed me off. The one exception? “I’m sorry. That is so awful.” That one worked just fine.
Quite often I get asked for advice about how to comfort someone who has lost a child. Getting out of the early years of grief has allowed me to really analyze my experiences, and I have found that people really do want to know what to do. And really, would I know all of this if I hadn’t lived through it? Definitely not. I’d like to think I was always an empathetic person, but I’m sure I used the general “It’ll be okay. Everything will be alright,” with someone in pain.
Especially in the raw, early days of grief, using broad religious or faith-based replies typically doesn’t help, even when the person is strong in his or her faith.
Trying to explain why a tragedy happens is futile.
Grieving people are in so much pain, and unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot to say that can actually help.
There are a lot of things you can do, however. Instead of trying to make them feel better, simply let them know you are there. Hold her hand and hug her.
Ask, point blank, if something helps or doesn’t help.
Losing my babies gave me the right to be a total bitch and do what I wanted and say what I wanted, and everybody else should just have to understand. Whenever I was upset, I deserved to be mad and that person should apologize. Grief can cause you to be so selfish, although I would say deservedly so.
It also made me believe that everyone else’s life was picture-perfect, and that it was totally unfair that mine was not. In some ways, and this is extremely diffcult to admit, I just felt like everyone else should have to suffer, too.
After experiencing what grief can do to the heart and soul, I now totally and completely understand and empathize with how someone can completely lose control.
It was do or die time. I could almost feel myself slipping away into the dark feelings. I was grumpy more than I was cheerful, depressed more than I was happy. I was one of those people who felt like taking medication was giving up, admitting I couldn't handle it. Luckily, I realized that it wasn’t giving up at all—it was time to get help.
Marriage After Loss
Someone recently asked me why I thought we were able to stay together. I attribute it to a few things. First, I don’t think we love each other more than any other married couple. Our marriage was new, and it hadn’t been easy. My guess is that since I did a lot of research about how to heal, it helped. That being said, I’m sure that luck had a little bit to do with it, too. I found out right away that a loss like this could completely derail your marriage. Then I read an entire book written by a psychologist that talked about how men and women grieve differently.
By the end of that first appointment, I had a diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Not shocking, I suppose. I was reliving the events over and over, I was avoiding anything and everything that would remind me of it, and I had pretty much only negative feelings about myself and my life. The worst of it was how irritable I felt all the time, and how angry. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t read a book or complete a task without difficulty.
For me, writing was my biggest savior. Writing was how I healed. But everyone will find their own path to healing. Some of my blog friends absolutely loved their therapists. Some weren't comfortable with that and visited support groups instead. Others healed through service to the church or starting their own fundraisers or foundations. The most important thing for me to remember was that whatever was working for me was the right thing for me. If you are in the depths of this pain right now, don't worry about whether or not you’re doing the “right” thing. Find what works for you and hang on for dear life!
I have come to the conclusion that there is no way to measure grief. I have met and gotten to know hundreds of women over the last few years, many of whom have stories very similar to mine, but we all have a different grief journey.
If I had to choose the one thing from all of this that has made me better—a better friend, mother, daughter, wife, sister, colleague— it’s the knowledge that someone else’s pain is never yours to judge.
Loneliness and isolation, they sneak their way in. At first it doesn’t feel so bad—being alone in your grief is “normal,” right? It’s normal not to answer your phone—you’re grieving, after all. My very closest friends had come and cried with me and held my hand, but what is left to do after that?
I could feel the “old me” continuing to slip away. That girl that laughed all the time and saw the best in everyone and always had fun was gone, nowhere to be found. She had been replaced, without a choice, without a chance to go back. Even I felt uncomfortable with the person I had become. I had to learn to love myself again, and until I could do that, I wanted to be alone. Then came anger and selfishness. Today, when anyone comes to me for advice about how to comfort their friend who has just lost a baby, the first thing I tell them is, “Expect them to seem selfish and love them anyway. Their world has just stopped moving, and they cannot understand how yours can still go on.”
Finding Your People
Eventually, my online friends became more to me than just validation—they became my lifeline, and with few exceptions, my only social interaction. They were where I felt the safest, where I knew that no matter what I said, they would recognize my feelings and share in them.
I couldn’t believe that I had a new best friend . . . and that I had found her on the internet!
My spirit was lifting, and my days were getting a little brighter. There is nothing like finding out that you are not alone.
Journey Through Grief
Honestly, in the first few months, maybe even a year, I frequently wished I was dead so I could be with them. I also wished that I had died instead of them. Although I sometimes had those thoughts, the feelings were fleeting; they passed quite quickly. What’s more is that I never really stopped to linger on those thoughts, and I had no plans to do anything extreme.
I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to be brave, but . . . the pain made me fragile. It was all I could do to get up and face the day, let alone help everyone else be okay with their insensitive words.
When someone you know is grieving, whether or not you think they are grieving too hard, or for too long, or for no reason—none of those things matter. It doesn’t matter what you think about their grief! Support them and tell them you are so sorry that this is happening to them.
Frankly, nobody else’s problems really mattered to me during those first few months. Everything seemed trivial to me.
Grief has permanently changed me, for better and for worse. It’s like they say. Your whole life really can change in an instant.
There were pieces of me that were starting to come back together, little by little. There were, of course, some that would never be back together, never fully healed. And that has to be okay.
However, through all the pain of grief, I had managed to find a beautiful, amazing friendship. This was a friendship that, originally, had started to pull me out of the deepest, darkest places of my brain. And now, it was one that made it possible for me to do more than just survive. I was learning to thrive.
Over the years, I have basically had to lower my expectations. I know that some of my family members won’t call or text or even hit “like.” I have to be okay with that because if I’m not, it just ends up hurting me. I try to let it help me be a better friend and family member. I am so not perfect. We all do things wrong in our relationships. I try hard not to harbor resentment, and when the opportunity arises to share the fact that I am remembering Sophie and Aiden, I take it.
Mostly I try to let Sophie and Aiden's short lives impact the way I live my life. I look at the world differently now. I know I am a survivor. I know I am strong. This is all because of their existence. Their short little lives.
As an educator, I tell my students about them. I use their story to help my students realize that everyone has hurt and that you can still be okay, even after. I show my fourth graders about how I am using my experiences to help me write a book and that they should, too.
I speak their names into the universe, and I think of them every single day. Every day. Without exception. The good news is, after seven years, when I think of them, it feels peaceful. That may sound strange, but it does. I feel love and peace. Longing, too. Always longing. But most of the time that horrible, gut-wrenching ache that leaves me breathless isn’t there anymore.
The problem is that sadness was (and is) still very much there. With every milestone that I got to experience with her, the weight was upon me that I had missed out on those milestones with my twins.
The more I share, the more honest I am, the more real I get, the more I hear from people that they are so grateful for just that. That they are so moved by my honest and raw account of my journey with grief that it has helped them along in their own. And the thing is, I am not doing anything special. Honesty is not really all that special. Sure, it makes me vulnerable, but I’ve learned that being vulnerable isn’t such a bad thing after all.
We want to scream to the world, “DOESN’T ANYONE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS NOT FAIR?!” And that, really, is because it’s not fair. Nothing really is. But we have to be careful because if we start asking why these horrible things happened to us, we’d also have to ask why these other great things happened to us. Really, the truth is, there’s just no point in asking.
We need to try to understand, stop using clichés, and just really listen to each other. Ask your friend or loved one what the worst part is. What they are most afraid of. What they can’t get out of their minds. Try not to be annoyed when they’ve said the same thing five hundred times, and it seems like they just can’t move on. Or at least, don’t let it show that you are!
And while I thought I was an empathetic person before, the truth is, I wasn’t. Not really. I was caring and compassionate, but I think true empathy might only be realized once you have needed someone else’s empathy to survive the day.
If you are reading this and you have just experienced a loss, this is my promise to you. This will not be easy; it will take so much work. The pain will feel insurmountable some days, and you will want to give up. But if you work at your grief, if you chip away at it, if you allow yourself to know that grief will rede ne you and change you as a person, you are going to be okay.
Time won’t heal you, but your hard work will. Tell your friends and family what you need. If they can’t give it to you, it’s up to you to find people who will. Go find yourself a Bree! The world is this huge place full of amazing people who have so much to offer you, and you don’t have to be alone. Find one and be one. Remember: We’ve got this.
Christy Wopat’s debut novel, a memoir, titled “Almost a Mother: Love, Loss, and Finding Your People When Your Baby Dies” was just published this year by Orange Hat Publishing out of Waukesha. A 4th-grade teacher by day, as well as a busy mama and wife, Christy has always relied on writing as a way to cope. Recently she decided to use that strength as a way to help others, so they don’t have to feel alone.
Christy is a regular member of the Friending podcast team, a contributing writer to Still Standing, an online magazine about infant loss and grief, and a blogger at Um, You Guys? a parenting/adulting blog where she tries to infuse humor into everyday life.
Also voted #3 best writer in La Crosse County in Explore La Crosse’s “5th Annual Best of La Crosse County", Christy is making her way onto the local writing scene! She is a member of Women Writer’s Ink, an uplifting and motivating writing group in LaCrosse, and also Wisconsin Writers Association. Christy resides in Holmen, Wisconsin with her husband, Brian, and her two kids, Avery and Evan.
You can find Christy at www.christywopat.com