July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, which holds such a beautiful and special place in my heart as one of my very best friends lost her daughter. Watching her walk through this trial has blessed me in so many ways. This blog post has been a long time in the making, but I think it's finally time to share it in honor of Melissa and every other grieving momma out there. I am praying for all of you.
It was the perfect birthday present! On October 5, 2013 my friend Melissa and I were walking out to her car after church so she could give me my present. At the time I was engaged and the date was set for June 21, 2014. She hesitantly began to tell me something, and right away I knew she was going to tell me she was pregnant. I was so excited -- my best friend/future cousin-in-law telling me she's pregnant doesn't happen everyday. However she was due June 4th and was so worried that I'd be upset that she'd most likely not be able to be in my wedding anymore. I was too excited to care! I knew we'd figure something out.
Melissa had just found out that she was pregnant but told me so that I could continue planning my wedding. So I had to suppress my excitement as I got in the car to go out to eat with my friend Abby -- also my future cousin-in-law and Melissa's sister-in-law (she's married to Melissa's brother). Sitting at Panera, Abby told me that she was pretty sure she was pregnant. I was about to burst! My two best friends, who are sister-in-laws, both pregnant at the same time! But I kept Melissa's secret. So it was hard to explain why we moved the date up to March 22 in order to include both of them!
Once the word was out about both Melissa and Abby everyone was so excited for them. It's so fun to be pregnant with one of your best friends (and I have to admit I wasn't even married yet and it gave me crazy baby fever)! They were exactly 20 days apart and the excitement was high. Melissa soon found out that she was having a girl, while Abby found out she was having a boy. I hate to admit it, but I remember feeling slightly disappointed that Melissa was having a girl -- I always thought having a boy first was the way to go. But once I saw all the cute things Melissa was buying for her daughter the excitement was fully restored!
For some reason I constantly prayed for Melissa, she was always on my heart. Almost every day I'd be in tears praying for her and her sweet baby, but I didn't know why. I prayed for Abby and another expectant mother at our church, but I didn't have them constantly on my heart like I did Melissa. Perhaps it is because Melissa is the most graceful, dainty woman I know. She is always so poised and when I first started coming to church I looked up to her beyond what words could describe. But looking back, she needed extra prayers stored up for her.
On February 13, 2014 I was still nannying four boys so I was up early taking the oldest to school. Melissa was 24 weeks at the time. I can't remember exactly where I was when I got a text from Abby saying, "Did you hear about Melissa?" My heart began racing, I immediately assumed the absolute worst and began praying so hard that she'd be all right and that her baby was still okay. Abby texted me back telling me that Melissa had been having contractions so she went to the hospital that night. By the time she got there she was 10 cm. Initially they tried having her push, but her baby's heart rate was dropping so they had to do an emergency c-section. Her sweet baby girl, Audrey Lynn, came into this world early that morning.
Melissa's husband Chris said he was watching the doctors and nurses working on Audrey and began looking at each other with looks of despair and hopelessness. That's when the verse came to Chris about God breathing the breath of life into man (Genesis 2:7), and Audrey came to life crying and kicking! I felt sick all day in constant prayer for Audrey - she was only 1 lb 4 oz and Melissa and Chris were facing an uphill battle filled with so much uncertainty.
But Audrey made it through that first miraculous day with countless prayers being answered along the way! And due to the fact that so many prayers were being answered everyone was so hopeful; we all thought that if God was answering our prayers that Audrey would surely go on to live with a miraculous testimony to share. Audrey's second day of life was Valentine's Day. She was doing well throughout the day, but towards the evening they sent out a text that her oxygen levels were dropping and to pray for her. Michael and I were down on our knees praying for this sweet girl who had already touched the lives of so many. For hours we didn't get any updates. Melissa had unfortunately delivered in a hospital that did not have a NICU that could meet Audrey's needs, so Audrey was quickly transferred to a hospital about ten minutes away after she was born. Melissa and Audrey were separated for most of Audrey's life. But when Audrey's oxygen levels began dropping they told Melissa she should go to the hospital to see her daughter. Having just had a c-section it's a little easier said than done. But she was able to leave and spend the last hours of her daughter's life surrounded by family.
It came to a painful moment where the nurses told Melissa and Chris that things weren't looking good and were given the option to have Audrey removed from all of the machines and wires so that they could hold her. After being reassured that they wouldn't be the ones making the decision of life or death for their firstborn daughter, they removed Audrey from the support of man and left it up to God. I'm not sure how long exactly, but shortly after, sweet little Audrey took her last breath on this earth in her mother's arms. I've truly never heard of anything more heartbreaking.
I just remember thinking what a whirlwind it had been. Melissa had gone into the hospital not even 48 hours before, definitely not expecting that her little girl would be entering the world shortly after. I imagine it'd be so hard and surreal to come to terms that they had a daughter, and before it had even really sunk in, she was gone.
When I heard that Audrey had passed I was numb. I had no idea what to do. And I began searching and reading articles and blog posts about what to do for a mother who has lost her child. I learned so many things from my research as well as by walking through this heartbreaking journey with Melissa, and I wanted to share the things that stuck out and meant the most to me:
- Grief is grief - If you know a woman who has lost a child at any stage during pregnancy, shortly after, or years after, don't hold her to a certain standard of grieving. Each mother (and father) processes what happened differently, heals differently, has different triggers, expresses his/her grief differently, etc. Don't expect the parents to ever "get over it" and don't assume that the earlier a child is lost in life is correlated to how deeply grief is felt. There may be a different kind of sadness, ache, or mourning, but grief is grief. Don't compare it.
- It does not matter how long the child lived. Many people think, "Well they were barely alive, it's not like losing a child who was older." But this just simply isn't true. To the mother, who instantly bonded with her child upon his or her arrival, it just doesn't matter. A connection between mother and child forms in the blink of an eye; as soon as you hear that first cry, and after that you can't remember what your life was like before their arrival. So to have them ripped away from you by death is a mother's worst nightmare.
- It is not for the best. Many infants who die had a health condition that very possibly was going to affect their quality of life. Some people think that in the long run, it'll be easier to lose the child now rather than later and not have to see them grow while suffering. But for a newly grieving mother, she's not thinking ahead like that. She is in the moment and her heart is broken. She would give her own life to have her child come back. While some mothers grow to become thankful that their child didn't have to suffer in this world, it still doesn't take away the pain they feel or fill the hole in their heart that their child's absence left.
- Mothers and fathers want you to remember their child. One of the worst things you could do is act like it didn't happen. All that the parents have left of their child now is the memories that were made. It's not awkward to say their name - it brings great joy to the parents to know that others remember that their child existed! If you're feeling lost as to what to say, don't say much, giving a heartfelt, "I am SO sorry - you've been in my prayers and I'll never forget Audrey and how she touched so many," is sometimes much more meaningful than word vomiting because you don't know what to say and end up saying something offensive.
- If a mother already has children, that doesn't help make up for the loss.If a mother doesn't have any other living children, telling her that she can have more does not make up for the loss. Her child held (and still holds) a very specific place in her heart and having more children will still bring joy but it will NEVER replace the one(s) she lost.
- Grieving is so personal. The process looks so different for each mother. Just because one seemed to be doing fine six months after losing her child does not mean that you should hold other grieving mothers to that standard. (And just because a mother seems okay, does not mean that she is). Just when a mother thinks she can see a little bit of light at the end of a tunnel, she might go through an event that starts the process all over again.
- There are so many hard days the first year - and every year after that. The date of her baby shower (if it was already planned), her due date, Mother's Day, her birthday, their wedding anniversary, holidays, milestones (such as when the baby would be one month old, six months old, etc), the baby's first birthday. Reach out to her on these days. Several days after the death, most people move on and resume their normal lives. But for the mother and father, they still feel like their whole world has stopped. Even though they don't blame people for being forgetful, it hurts to live through a day that should have been joyous, such as the baby's due date. Reaching out to them on days like these makes them feel so loved and confirms to them that their child is in no way forgotten. Try to remember that for the rest of her life, she's going to grieve of what could have been on her child's birthday. Even when her child should be turning 38, it will still be painful to think about what her child would've been like. So be sure to tell her that you are thinking of her on this day and that you miss her child, too.
- She is still happy for other mothers. Don't assume she hates new mothers and is jealous. It is definitely a bittersweet thing for her to experience, and she might not be able to attend your baby shower, but she is still happy for you. She may feel like it's unfair and wonder why your baby is healthy, but she would never wish this upon anyone.
- Let her decide. If you're going to visit a mutual friend who just had a baby, or are throwing a baby shower, or anything you're not sure if the mother will be up to. Don't just not invite her. She might have to wait until the morning of the event to see how she's feeling, but it's very possible that she may want to go! But if she doesn't, don't take it personally. Ask in a gentle way that doesn't make her feel pressured or guilty if she chooses not to attend. And let her know that you'll love and support her regardless of any decision she makes.
- She IS a mother. He is STILL a father. They are allowed to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day if they wish to do so (and they probably do!) They will most likely celebrate their child's birthday in some way. And it hurts beyond compare when someone says something that makes them feel like you don't consider them to be a parent since they no longer have their child with them on this earth. Unfortunately they are not actively parenting, but they will always be a parent. If someone lost their 27-year-old child, most would still consider them a parent... it's no different!
- Do NOT complain about your children to her. She would do anything to get up seventeen times each night to nurture her crying baby. But she can't. And it kills her. Hearing you complain about being pregnant, how tired you are because you had to get up in the middle of the night six times, about how hard breastfeeding is, or about your older kids fighting is one of the most insensitive things you could do. She would gladly take on every burden you could find to complain about if it meant her child was still alive and in her arms.
- Let her cry. Let her talk about her child with you, but don't force it. If you feel sad, don't be afraid to cry in front of her. When you cry it makes her feel comfortable to cry. Don't be afraid to step into someone's grief and help carry them. She needs support, she needs to feel loved, she needs to feel like someone hasn't forgotten her baby. Be that person if you feel lead. If you feel like the Lord gave you a scripture or song that helped you grieve and heal from the loss of her child, share that with her if you feel lead (just please not Ecclesiastes 3:1 that says everything happens for a reason).
- Understand that she will never "get over it." With time, it will get easier to go through the day, she will heal. But she will never get over the loss of her child. Time does not heal all wounds; the hole in her heart will never completely go away. But as Melissa shared with me, on a particularly hard day where she felt drowned in grief, she was crying out to God and in that still small voice, she heard Him reply, "My love goes deeper." His love goes deeper than any pain we may experience. But understand that it takes time for mothers to get to that point. It will still hurt, but God will comfort them.
- Understand that she may grow distant for a period of time. When asked she will respond (most likely), but even if she doesn't, know that it's not you. She just feels lost and unbelievably sad. She misses her baby. She'd do anything to hold her one more time. And she feels like no one else understands. Grief takes such a toll on you emotionally, it may get to a point where she can longer "put on an act," and that's okay. She is so emotionally drained that she can't always fake a response to a generic question like "how are you?" She might even take something out on you. And remember that even though it hurts you, she is hurting so much more. The closer you are to her, the more likely this will happen because she knows you'll stay even if she unintentionally offends you. If this happens, try your hardest to not take it personally and be even kinder, because she needs you to show unconditional love and support. In fact, you can even take it as a complement because it shows how much she trusts you and knows that she can be herself around you without being judged.
- If you find yourself thinking about and missing her child on a particular day, tell her. She loves to hear that she's not the only one who misses her child. She loves knowing that you remember her child on random days and not just on special days such as their birthday.
- Ask her how she's doing. It may have been a year and she seems to be doing well. But ask her, tell her you still pray for her momma's heart. If she opens up to you, talk about it with her for as long as she wants, but don't force the subject.
- Send her cards. Even if she lives nearby. I firmly believe that the day a card arrives is not a coincidence. It might just come on a day where she really needed it.
Through it all, I've never seen someone go through such a heart wrenching trial so gracefully. Chris and Melissa's faith never wavered. Audrey passed away on Friday night and on Monday night I went to her memorial service. My stomach was still in knots from when Abby texted me asking if I'd heard what had happened early Thursday morning. I just felt so sick for Melissa. After the service I got to talk to Melissa and of all things, she helped me feel better! I remember feeling guilty because I wanted to say something that would help her. Yet she said things that helped me.
There have been so many times she's had to silently suffer as people said extremely insensitive things to her, yet she's too sweet to say anything and knows they mean well. I really pray that I've never said or done anything that caused more pain, and I hope she'd tell me if I did, but like I said, she's just too sweet! The way she has navigated through this tragedy has been nothing short of miraculous; God's glory shines so brightly through her testimony. There is no other way she would have been able to walk through this so gracefully. Audrey's story points straight to God. I am so thankful for Audrey's story.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned how I was ashamed to admit that I was slightly disappointed when I found out Melissa was pregnant with a girl instead of a boy. However this experience has helped me to understand that the Lord KNOWS. He just does. He never makes a mistake, He knows exactly what we need, and He is so intentional! It also helped me to give up some of my "plans." I had always wanted to have a boy, then a girl, and then be done. And up until Audrey was born, if it hadn't happened that way I would've been pretty disappointed at first. But now I want what the Lord has for me. Not that I didn't before, I just needed an experience like this to show me that little (and sometimes big) things don't matter, what matters is that I'm serving the Lord with reckless abandon! I am just so thankful for Audrey, a sweet little baby girl who never made it to two days old, but is continuing to inspire me over a year later and I know will inspire me for years to come.
Even though Melissa will always grieve the loss of Audrey, on May 1, 2015 she welcomed Asher Andreas to the world - the sweetest and most perfect little answer to prayer! After a handful of OB ER visits, and a 3 week stay in the hospital at the end of her pregnancy, Asher came into this world at exactly 8 lbs and as healthy as can be at 37 weeks! He is perfect and I am so, so, so happy for Melissa and Chris. The Lord has blessed them with their heart's desire.